At this point, there is overwhelming evidence that Russia meddled heavily in the 2016 election. The primary tool Russian operatives used to do so was social media – particularly Facebook – which boasts close to 215 million American users. On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee released nearly 3,500 Facebook ads purchased between 2015 and 2017 by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll organization tasked by the Kremlin to use the Internet to influence public opinion. In February, a U.S. grand jury indicted 13 individuals linked to the group on charges related to their attempts to interfere with the American political process.
The ads released Thursday cover a range of hot-button campaign issues like immigration, Black Lives Matter, alleged Clinton corruption, veteran appreciation and gun control. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said of the Internet Research Agency’s campaign. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us."
Though the intelligence community has determined that Russia had "a clear preference" for Donald Trump to win the election, many of the ads were geared toward inciting the left in regard to issues like Black Lives Matter. Take a look at some of the most memorable ads below.
The cache of ads makes clear that Russia's primary objective was to pit Americans against each other on some of the election's most divisive issues.
They even sought to mobilize both sides of the Beyoncé debate following her performance at the 2016 Super Bowl.
Several of the ads were aimed at stoking anger toward illegal immigrants.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were also popular targets.
American pride was a popular theme.
These paid advertisements only represent a fraction of Russia’s social media campaign to influence the election. The House Intelligence Committee also notes that the Internet Research Agency posted 80,000 pieces of organic content, which Facebook says came across the screens of 120 million Americans (11 million Americans viewed the close to 3,500 ads released on Thursday). The organic posts have also been provided to the House Intelligence Committee, and Schiff says that the committee hopes to release them in the future.
As was made clear throughout Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s April testimony, lawmakers have only a rudimentary understanding of the social media platform, and many are worried that the United States is woefully unequipped to withstand future cyber attacks. The Trump administration, however, doesn't appear to be too concerned. Earlier this week, it was reported that new National Security Adviser John Bolton is working to eliminate the top cybersecurity job in the White House. "With no one at the helm at the White House to manage [cybersecurity], I worry about which countries will step in," former NSC director of international cyber policy Megan Stifel told Politico.