The batch of more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads that Facebook is preparing to turn over to Congress shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggesting that these same groups pose a rising political threat, say people familiar with the covert influence campaign. The Russian campaign — taking advantage of Facebook’s ability to send contrary messages to different groups of users based on their political and demographic characteristics — also sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women. These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another.
The nature and detail of these ads have troubled investigators at Facebook, on Capitol Hill and at the Justice Department, say people familiar with the advertisements, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share matters still under investigation.
“Their aim was to sow chaos,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “In many cases, it was more about voter suppression rather than increasing turnout.”