Some ads were attempts to provoke violent demonstrations.
During a Senate hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Wednesday, Nov. 1, lawmakers released a sample of the 3,000 ads that Russian operatives purportedly ran on Facebook. The ads made aggressive appeals to voters upset about black political activism, Muslim Americans in U.S. communities, gun rights, and Hillary Clinton. Some ads even promoted demonstrations and counter-demonstrations to inspire violence in America’s public squares.
According to Facebook, much of the activity came from the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a troll farm set up by Russian operatives. During its investigations, Facebook found that 120 IRA-linked Facebook pages created over 80,000 posts during the election and its aftermath. These posts reached up to 126 million users and were shared by millions more. Twitter revealed it had shut down 2,752 IRA-linked accounts and 36,000 Russian bots. Google said there were 1,108 videos posted by Russian-backed YouTube channels and that operatives spent at least $4,700 on Google ads.
Facebook does not accept payments from Russia for business or political advertisements, so many of the ads were paid for using the Russian payment platform, Qiwi. Qiwi is a Russian version of PayPal that has partnered with Visa on a virtual credit card. “The reason that they probably picked Qiwi is because it’s a convenient way for pay for things internationally,” said Nicholas Davidov, a Russian venture capitalist who had worked with Qiwi’s co-founders.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) chastised the social media giants for their role in the Russian disinformation campaign.
“I don’t think you get it,” she said. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away, gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”