More information has come to light about the Facebook ads purchased by a Russian government-affiliated troll farm during the 2016 presidential election. Ads were purchased that referenced Black Lives Matter and specifically targeted people in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md.
Both Ferguson and Baltimore were the sites of widespread civil unrest and protests after high-profile killings of black men by police. CNN reports that the Internet Research Agency used that information to purchase geographically targeted advertising meant to sow political chaos in the United States.
While a senior spokesman from the Kremlin said last week that Russia did not buy ads on Facebook to influence the election, but the Internet Research Agency is described as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.” Facebook says the agency purchased 3,000 ads, roughly a quarter of which were geographically targeted.
The Black Lives Matter ad that was reportedly purchased appeared on Facebook sometime between late 2015 and early 2016. Sources told CNN that the ad could be seen as both supporting Black Lives Matter and representing it as a threat to some residents of Ferguson and Baltimore.
While the ads did not necessarily promote one candidate or cause over another, it appears the goal was to amplify political discord and create a general atmosphere of incivility and chaos.
In a statement earlier this month, Facebook’s chief security officer said, “the vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate. Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
Facebook has turned over copies of all the ads as well as information about the account that purchased them to special counsel Robert Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hear from Twitter on how foreign nationals may have taken advantage of their ad system as well during the 2016 election.