The Russian government bought thousands of Facebook ads leading up to the 2016 presidential election in order to sow soci0-political chaos in the United States. According to a new report, Baltimore was one of their targeted markets.
When advertisers buy Facebook ads, they can pick a targeted market for the audience that will see it. Russia’s Internet Research Agency did just that, picking specific markets for about a quarter of the 3,000 or so ads they bought during presidential campaign season.
Facebook has been sharing some of the details of those ad buys, which stretched from June 2015 to May of this year, according to CNN. Evidently, at least one of the ads – no specific images have been identified, unfortunately – promoted Black Lives Matter. For the targeted market, the Russians chose Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., places where civil unrest ensued following the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers.
Sources told CNN that while the ad was promotional in nature for Black Lives Matter, it was designed to play with Facebook users’ emotions and further divide them, depending on their views on the social movement. Those who supported Black Lives Matter would feel their beliefs reinforced; those who opposed it would be irritated.
This is one of the tricks that American officials say Russia used to deepen social tensions on U.S. soil in the election that put Donald Trump in the White House. Another was to spread fake news to convince less educated or non-observant Americans that fictional nefarious activity was happening behind the scenes in our government.
“It shows they the level of sophistication of their targeting,” said former CIA officer and CNN national security analyst Steve Hall, via CNN. “They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues.”
Facebook is in the process of turning over copies of all 3,000 or so ads to Congress, and has already submitted them to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading an ongoing investigation into Russia’s subversive involvement in the 2016 election.
One of many questions Mueller and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are trying to answer: Did Trump and his team collude with Russia on its meddling internet activity?
We now know Baltimore was on Russia’s mind during the 2016 presidential election season. But who were they targeting? Facebook’s ad service allows buyers to also pick a demographic to target in a geographic region. Depending on the outcomes of the Senate’s and Mueller’s investigations, we should eventually find out.