The news that Facebook ran tens of thousands of dollars worth of ads from a Putin-linked Russian troll farm is the latest evidence that the Kremlin has proved adept at turning those features of the American system it most detests into advantages for itself. Although Putin is an apostle of illiberalism, he has picked up on U.S. freedom of the press as a useful tool for Russian messages. In this case, propagandists for the nationalist Russian state are working to turn America’s diversity against it, using potent wedge issues to create and widen social fissures. Foreigners are prohibited from spending to influence an election, so there could be a violation of law and Federal Election Commission guidelines, but it’s not like Russia is going to extradite anyone to the U.S. to face campaign-finance charges. The ads could only be further evidence of Russian attempts to interfere in the election, which at this point is acknowledged by nearly everyone save the president. But if, as Senator Mark Warner and others have implied, the Russians might have received guidance on who to target with the ads, it might point closer to the elusive smoking gun proving collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There’s also no way to know whether the estimated $100,000 buy, a relative pittance by campaign-spending standards, is the end of the splurge or just the start.
Intriguingly, after several outlets reported on the ads—and Facebook acknowledged them—Reuters reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had obtained “copies of advertisements and data about the buyers of the ads” from Facebook. Yet Facebook said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that “Our data policy and federal law limit our ability to share user data and content, so we won’t be releasing any ads,” suggesting that Mueller might have subpoenaed Facebook to obtain the data.
But even without knowing what Mueller knows, the content of the ads indicates the savviness of Russian operators. Facebook’s chief security officer wrote in a blog post that “the vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate,” but “rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
Full Article: What the Russian Facebook Ads Reveal.