It’s been revealed that Russia was the mastermind behind Facebook ads that exploited racial tensions in American cities like Ferguson and Baltimore. The ads were reportedly meant to encourage black militancy, and in turn stoke white fear and retaliation. One of the ads in question featured photographs of an armed black woman “dry firing” a rifle — pulling the trigger of the weapon without a bullet in the chamber.
“These ads are racist propaganda, pure and simple,” Malkia Cyril, a Black Lives Matter activist in Oakland, California, and executive director for the nonprofit Center for Media Justice, told the Washington Post. “Whether they appear to be in support or in opposition to black civil rights is irrelevant. Their aim is to subvert democracy for everyone by using anti-black stereotypes — an idea as old as America.”
The ads also helped to boost Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And now Congress is involved.
The Washington Post reported that more than 3,000 Facebook ads delivered to congressional investigators that the company says were bought by 470 accounts and pages controlled by a Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg.
Among the other Facebook ads shared with lawmakers are those featuring photos of Hillary Clinton behind what appear to be prison bars. This may have fueledTrump and his supporters to chant “Lock Her Up” during campaign events, as a mandate to imprison Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state.
In addition to sharing the ads, Facebook is providing information to lawmakers about which users those ads targeted, the views and clicks the ads received, and the methods of payment used by the Russian operatives, said people familiar with the investigation. The ads were reportedly viewed tens of millions of times, people familiar with the investigation said.
“The big picture is that we’re stepping up tomorrow to help Congress understand foreign interference on the ad platform and to make improvements to the ad platform to enhance transparency,” said Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for U.S. public policy, in an interview with the Post. “We’re committed to doing our part to prevent this type of malicious interference.”
According to Blavity.com, Facebook also confirmed they’ll be updating security measures in various ways, including developing a feature to make sure political organizations are certified legit before allowing them to purchase political ads.
Additionally, the company said they will hire thousands of ad reviewers in the upcoming months in connection with this issue as well as to help the firm monitor hate speech and violence/sexual content on its live video platform.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also recently announced that every group will have to publicly post copies of the political ads they have purchased. Previously ads would only be visible to the specific target group the purchaser selected.