Here are the Russian ads that deceived users on Facebook and Instagram

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Here are the Russian ads that deceived users on Facebook and Instagram

It’s clear from the testimony of internet companies that Russian interests were attempting to influence public opinion via social media to an extent no one expected. The content itself, however, has largely been a mystery — the ads and fake accounts have long been taken down. But Facebook delivered them to Congress as part of an ongoing inquiry into the effect of Russia’s meddling, and the House’s Intelligence Committee has posted a handful ahead of its hearing tomorrow.

The striking thing about these ads is how banal they are; “election interference” sounds very cloak-and-dagger, but the effort here is very clearly more subtle than that. Click through for examples of how the effort aimed not just to discredit a candidate (though Clinton was reliably the target), but to hammer in wedges and foment division on existing issues.


Appeal to independence

The always-lively discussion of secession makes for a great opportunity to air grievances. Note that this particular sponsored event not only had nearly 100 people RSVP, but nearly 2,000 likes and 143 comments. Whether that’s real or fake accounts, it probably helped show this ad to thousands more.


Border paranoia

Another sponsored post with great engagement numbers, this one uses a real arrest and parleys it into a soapbox moment.


Boosting Bernie

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or so the saying goes. That gets complicated with international politics, of course. But it’s pretty elementary to split a strong base, which is arguably what this ad is in service of.


'Like' to help Jesus win

The bar for quality on Facebook is pretty low, of course, and stuff like this still gets people clicking.


After the fact

This ad actually ran a week after the election. Were these fake accounts still playing the role they were given, or had the game now changed to discredit the president-elect?


Keep the conversation running

Knowing how divided people are on an issue, sometimes you just need to mention a topic in order to get people at each other’s throats. Doesn’t look like it worked in this case, though.


Clicky conspiracies

Hitch your wagon to a popular conspiracy theory (this one was debunked years ago) and watch the clicks roll in.


Social issues

What’s the point of helping organize a counter-protest against Westboro Baptist Church? Perhaps keeping social divides fresh helps divide the electorate.


Play both sides

Boost Sanders on one side to gain credibility with left-leaning liberals, and associate him with Islam to alienate xenophobic conservatives.


Reach existing communities

The fake, Russian-crafted organization known as “Black Matters” again remixes a popular political motto and hashtag to its own ends (and apparently with good results).


Tell the truth, sometimes

Some ads, like this one depicting the Black Panthers, expressed sentiments similar to those that might be expressed by legitimate black activist groups.


Embrace conservative communities

Some ads stoked fears around gun rights, one of the most contentious issues in U.S. politics and one that continues to divide Americans and legislators today.


Yet more communities

This ad for a fake organization called “Don’t shoot” utilized a common protest call and hashtag in the Black Lives Matter movement. Having a variety of popular pages like this makes for a guaranteed audience.


Attack progressives

Some inflammatory political content manipulated American sympathy for veterans under the guise of patriotism.


Attack immigrants

More than 130,000 people liked this Russian-based page playing on border fears. Securing the southern border is a key issue to many Trump voters.


Attack Clinton

This ad actually called on users to express their outrage by signing a petition to remove Clinton from the ballot. Because such petitions are so common online, this Russian-made petition easily flew under the radar.


But don't always attack

Not all of the Russian ads depicted issues negatively. Some attempted to stir up community-based interest groups, like this one for the “United Muslims of America.”


Make associations

Ads like this one depict political targets in photos with an agenda-pushing caption. In this case, this D.C. event was organized by Russian entities. The text isn’t exactly grammar, but the point is made.


Actually, attack Islam too

Russian ads asked leading questions to inspire negative feelings toward Islam among American voters; 14,000 reactions and 5,000 comments on this one (though as always, those counts are almost certainly inflated by fakes).


More Islam attacks

Many ads played on unfounded fears about extremist interpretations of Sharia law.


Islam attacks cont'd

Sharia law is a common topic of far-right disinformation and it appears in the Russian ads as well.


Islam attacks further cont'd

Some of the ads expressed Islamophobic opinions.


Come to our vague event

At least 180 people expressed interest in this New York-based anti-Clinton protest with Russian origins.


Gun control as wedge issue

Instagram ads from fake Russian-linked groups like “American Made” played up national divisions around the issue of gun control.


Increase organic reach by involving followers

This Instagram post by a Russian-linked account called “American Made” encouraged other users to submit content to be featured and leveraged Trump’s campaign slogan.


Or just keep it simple

Some Russian-linked ads targeted specific states, in this case Florida, one of the most important battleground states in the 2016 U.S. election. This particular ad features a call to action across cities in Florida, including Tampa, Miami and Orlando.