Russians attempting to sow racial and political division targeted some Virginians with Facebook and Instagram ads promoting Southern pride and rebel flags and others with messages highlighting young black men killed by police. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released more than 3,500 of the ads Thursday, offering the fullest picture yet of how a Russian internet agency attempted to influence Americans before and after the 2016 presidential election. Most of the ads are issue-based, pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights, among other issues. A large number of them attempt to stoke racial divisions by mentioning police brutality or disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement. Some promote President Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. Few, if any, support Clinton. Others were more narrowly targeted. About 10 specifically targeted Virginians, and only a few of those were widely distributed.
The agency spent about $105, paid to Facebook in rubles, to target an Instagram post at Virginians and residents of a handful of other Southern states who were interested in Confederate flags, Robert E. Lee or the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The ad’s text read: “Heritage not hate y’all! Our flag has nothing to with racism! The Federal Government shouldn’t be able to dictate what we can and can’t do.” It asked the 12,727 people who saw the ad to join a group planning a march in support of Donald Trump, with 373 clicking through.
Another ad that was also targeted at people living in Virginia promoted a group called Black Matters. The ad showed pictures of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, both killed by police, alongside an image that reads “never forget.”