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Russian Facebook Ads Targeted Muslims, Gun Owners, Black Lives Matter

October 2, 2017, 9:55 PM UTC

Facebook turned over nearly 3,000 ads to Congress on Monday that the social networking giant says were paid for by accounts linked to Russia.

Those ads include hundreds of Russian-linked accounts posing as Americans as part of what federal investigators and Facebook officials believe was a Russian campaign intended to exploit political and social divides in America while also potentially influencing the 2016 presidential election. Although Facebook has not made public the specific ads in question, news outlets on Monday reported some of the details, based on anonymous sources who are familiar with the ads.

According to The New York Times, the trove of ads Facebook handed over appear to span the political spectrum, including some from seemingly right-leaning accounts, like one called “Defend the 2nd” for gun-rights supporters, as well as another called “Secured Borders” that pushed a hard anti-immigrant line. Other Russian-linked accounts tried hiding themselves on the left, posing as gay rights activists and also promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. The Times noted that the goal of these accounts was likely to create viral posts, build a social audience, and eventually spread inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation.

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According to The Washington Post, other ads that the Russian-linked accounts bought from Facebook featured a photo of a black woman pulling a rifle trigger—an image that the newspaper’s sources believe may have been used in an attempt to either incite militant action among African-Americans or to provoke fear in white communities. The Daily Beast previously reported that Russian-linked accounts even bought ads pushing anti-U.S. sentiments as a Facebook group called United Muslims of America, the name of a real organization that has nothing to do with the Facebook group in question.

As part of its cooperation with the U.S. government, Facebook is helping federal lawmakers and law enforcement officials learn more about the groups that bought the thousands of ads, as well as who the ads targeted.

Also on Monday, Facebook announced plans to revamp its advertising operations, including hiring 1,000 more people to review ads and investing more money in software that flags questionable ads. Facebook said it would also require more information from accounts that buy political ads to curb any abuse by foreign entities, and the social network will also insist that any groups running political ads will have to publicly post copies of the ads they post.