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U.S. Lawmakers Release Russia-Linked Facebook Advertisements

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch testifies before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington on November 1.

U.S lawmakers have released a batch of Facebook ads linked to Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election and stir up emotions on sensitive social issues.

The release of the ads by the House Intelligence Committee on November 1 came as Facebook and other social media platforms came under increasing pressure for not doing enough to block Russian interference on their sites and prevent meddling in the 2016 election.

Some of the ads released apparently took opposing sides on social or political issues.

One ad called on readers to "Support Hillary. Save American Muslims!" It had a photo of a woman in a hijab next to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Republican Donald Trump.

Another ad urged viewers to "like and share if you want burqa banned in America," claiming that the person under the full-body covering could be a terrorist.

One video ad parodying Trump targeted blacks who also indicated they were interested in sites such as, HuffPost Politics, or HuffPost Black Voices.

Some of the ads used broken English and had several punctuation mistakes.

'Influence Campaign'

U.S. intelligence officials concluded in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an "influence campaign" targeting the 2016 election, aiming to undermine confidence in U.S. democracy, tarnish the reputation of Clinton, and help Trump.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter have said they found thousands of ads bought by Russia-linked accounts, including some paid for in rubles, and that they say were potentially seen by some 126 million people.

Lawmakers released only a sample of the thousands of the ads purchased by Russians, many of them by an organization known as the Internet Research Agency. Panel members said other ads were being examined and would also be released.

Facebook said the Russia-led effort to spread misinformation also used the Instagram social network, which the social network owns.

A top Facebook executive told a congressional committee on November 1 that Instagram posts by suspected Russian accounts were seen by some 20 million people in the United States in 2016.

"We now discovered, in the last 48 hours, 120,000 Russian-based posts on Instagram," the executive told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with representatives from the social media giants.

U.S. Senator Al Franken at the judiciary committee hearing on October 31.
U.S. Senator Al Franken at the judiciary committee hearing on October 31.

A day earlier, Democratic Senator Al Franken chastised the social media executives, saying, "People are buying ads on your platform with rubles. They are political ads."

"You put billions of data points together all the time. ... Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can't put together rubles with a political ad and go like, 'Hmmm, those data points spell out something pretty bad?'"

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the FBI, and at least two congressional committees are investigating Russia’s actions during the campaign and whether there are any links to the Trump team.

Trump denies any collusion with Russians, while the Kremlin denies that it interfered in the U.S. election.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters