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Russia Reportedly Bought Thousands of Facebook Ads Sought To Stress Racial Divisions (thehill.com) 292

According to The Washington Post, Russia government actors bought Facebook advertisements during the 2016 election cycle that sought to exploit and divide based on hot-button racial issues. Some of the ads promoted civil rights groups such as Black Lives Matter, while others criticized them in an effort to sow division. The Hill reports: Facebook is handing over some 3,000 ads to congressional investigators as part of probes into the Kremlin's alleged effort to influence the outcome of last year's presidential election. Other ads allegedly highlighted Hillary Clinton's support among Muslim women and promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages. Facebook didn't comment on the story, but did refer to a statement earlier this month from its chief privacy officer, Alex Stamos: "Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the idealogical spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."
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Russia Reportedly Bought Thousands of Facebook Ads Sought To Stress Racial Divisions

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  • So (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:10PM (#55263487) Homepage

    Facebook is a willing participant in election fraud?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Guardian proudly sponsors a campaign for foreigners to interfere in the 2004 election [theguardian.com]

      "I'm taking the liberty of asking you, a citizen of a country built upon the principles of democracy but whose very might is in danger of disenfranchising the rest of the world, to use your right to vote, and to vote with all your heart and your mind, in your own name but also in the name of all those millions of people who will be looking to your decision in two weeks' time."

      Translation: Think of us first, and the needs

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Yeah, fuck off Trump, Brexit is nothing to do with you. Stop trying to influence our votes with fake promises of golden trade deals that we know will turn to shit the moment we fall for your trap...

        Oh, wait... Fuck.

    • No way. Adverts don't harm people, people harm people.
    • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

      by msauve ( 701917 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:57PM (#55263709)
      Hell, the US news media does the same thing, they're no longer about informing, but about advocacy. What difference does it make if the source is foreign or domestic? They're all working to affect the vote. And, is foreign propaganda illegal? Do you think we don't do the same damn thing (Radio America as a simple example)?

      The proper response is an intelligent, informed electorate.

      The voter registration movements work against that. If someone can't figure out the how, and won't put the effort into registering on their own, there's no chance the'll expend the effort to make an informed choice. All those voter registration drives are simply attempts to get irrational sycophants to vote.
    • Willing but maybe not knowingly. They can't use that excuse anymore. But future attacks could be different in execution if not in substance.
    • by poity ( 465672 )

      KGB boss: Dmitry, SEO is not a skill, why you apply to KGB? You dumb son of potato, I only laugh. Go back to Siberia, come back after learn real programming.

      Dmitry: CYKA BLYAT I SHOW YOU HOLD MY VODKA!

      *two weeks later*

      CNN: "We project Trump will win the state of Michigan"

      KGB boss: Hyello everybody, this is our new department manager Dmitry.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Nope, the Washington post is a willing participant in fraud. Note the sneaky bit in the story, c'mon people, stop and think. Facebook delivers individual content to individual people, how that content is filtered and delivered is the Facebook system. So pay attention to that, so how does Facebook deliver ads, individually, not collectively. Each individual gets served an ad, so thousands of ads, get it, see, tricky fraudulent fuckers. They spend one hundred thousand dollars to sell some crap related to that

  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:16PM (#55263507)

    ...who have used race baiting [i.redd.it] against working whites in the same way white supremacists attack black and latinos. It's an inversion of LBJ's famous observation about poor southern whites:

    "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

    Only instead of getting poor whites to resent minorities who have never done a thing to them, it's getting poor minorities to resent white people who have never done anything to them. And all the while, the fine folks at COINTELPRO [wikipedia.org] are laughing their asses off as people ignore the deep state crony capitalists hiding behind the curtain.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BlueStrat ( 756137 )

      ...who have used race baiting against working whites in the same way white supremacists attack black and latinos. It's an inversion of LBJ's famous observation about poor southern whites:

      "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

      Only instead of getting poor whites to resent minorities who have never done a thing to them, it's getting poor minorities to resent white people who have never done anything to them. And all the while, the fine folks at COINTELPRO are laughing their asses off as people ignore the deep state crony capitalists hiding behind the curtain.

      Alright, who are you and what have you done with the Uberbah that I've argued with on /. countless times over the years!? LOL!

      Damn man, I find myself agreeing with your posts a lot lately! Well said. It's all about 'divide & conquer' using propaganda and disinformation while simultaneously dumbing-down the population so they are unable to think critically or possess any knowledge of history. Evil Kabuki theater.

      Strat

  • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:16PM (#55263509)
    I grew up with these types of stories since the cold wars days. But were told that it was all cia propaganda and that they would never do anything like that.
    • Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SeattleLawGuy ( 4561077 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:37PM (#55263613)

      I grew up with these types of stories since the cold wars days. But were told that it was all cia propaganda and that they would never do anything like that.

      Yes, propaganda is a very real part of everyday life, both state-sponsored and corporate-sponsored, throughout the developed world. Many newspaper articles are heavily influenced by it even when someone writing a story doesn't realize it, because fundamentally reporters have very little time to spend on each story. Most of this propaganda has political objectives.

      That doesn't make it okay. It is something that causes harm and that there should be both protection from and defenses for. A foreign government that uses propaganda to destabilize a country should be treated as a kind of attack and an appropriate proportional response (although it may be of a different kind) should be employed until you are able to negotiate a de-escalation. Here, the evidence appears to show that there have been propaganda and electronic attacks on the United States and it should respond intelligently.

      • Remember when Obama tried to alter the result of the Brexit vote? What retaliation should Britain be pursuing for that blatant foreign meddling?
        • Remember when Obama tried to alter the result of the Brexit vote? What retaliation should Britain be pursuing for that blatant foreign meddling?

          Q1: How does Facebook know with any certainty that these are Russian *government* actors. The implication being that the Russian government acted with intent to sow dissent during our elections.

          How does Facebook know that these are not separate, individual Russian citizens without ties to the Russian government?

          If one actor took out ads highlighting both sides of an issue, then yes... that would be intent to sow dissent.

          But if the different sides were taken by different actors, a simpler explanation is that

        • Anybody is entitled to their opinion, including Obama and Putin, let alone Trump who certainly doesn't hold back. Voicing your opinion as a head of state is not propaganda, it's your duty as a president. You're right that it's sometimes considered inappropriate insofar as foreign elections are concerned, but not for the reasons you suggest. It's sometimes considered unwise because it can create a diplomatic problem when the other party than the one you've supported is elected. Otherwise there is nothing wro
      • Maybe listen to this guy [youtube.com]?
    • The lesson of all this is actually "don't underestimate Russia"...
  • by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @10:16PM (#55263511)

    The ads were initially reported to be pro Trump. It seems Facebook itself reported false information to seed decent.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Err.. no, they weren't [slashdot.org]. The initial report was [washingtonpost.com]:

      Most of the ads and accounts didn't have to explicitly do with the election or either of the then-candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Instead, they were focused on divisive political topics, including LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights.

      If you read that as "pro-Trump", that's on you. Don't go crying "false information".

    • I don't know if FB reported false information, as much as the news media presumed that anything funded by Russia must be pro-Trump. Most news organizations are searching with a microscope for anything tying Russia to Trump, and they tend to get a bit giddy when they think something has been found. According to the article, there isn't much of a smoking gun here, and in fact there may not have been anything illegal as far as the "foreign nationals can't influence elections" laws. In the past these laws we

    • They were pro-Trump in that they helped his campaign. Inflaming racial tensions also keeps Americans focused on problems at home while the Russians are out pulling all kind of stunts up to and including annexing territory from sovereign states. Electing trump was just a side effect. I get the feeling most of the Russian contacts with his campaign weren't even serious attempts to collude with him. They just wanted to leave a concrete trail of contacts that would make a further circus, paralyzing the us gover
    • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday September 25, 2017 @11:44PM (#55263903)
      where you and me watching different campaigns. Racial divides were a big part of it. The tough hombres & rapists comments come to mind right off the bat. One of his chief advisors, Steve Bannon, made his mark first and foremost playing to that shtick. And let's face it, there was a lot of resentment over having a black president for 8 years that brought a lot of folks to the polls.

      I'm not saying it was the only that got Trump elected, I'm just saying he wouldn't have been without it. Hell, he wouldn't have made it through the primaries.
      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        where you and me watching different campaigns.

        Most likely, yes. That is what they can do. Remember when the ad companies told us it would be great to have personalized ads? This is it.

        And no, you are not immune to it, neither am I. Even if you are not on Facebook, people around you will have opinions and that will also influence you. (Yes, it will.)

        There are a lot of ways you could influence people. Say you tell them that candidate A is sure to win, there will be some people that won't bother to go and vote

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2017 @07:30AM (#55265257)

        This only works as propaganda to the extent that people already believe it enough to have it reinforce their own perceptions.

        If this is a Russian "campaign", it's only a campaign to exploit the gap between the false narrative official discourse and the everyday reality of most Americans. The false narrative of official discourse is that Americans are racist -- uniformly biased against non-whites -- and the problems of African Americans are almost exclusively the result of this racism and not of any widespread social problems they contribute to.

        The every day reality is that most Americans aren't uniformly racist against all races. If they were, millions of marginally literate, marginally English capable Mexicans wouldn't have had fantastic success in getting hired for jobs, millions of South Asians couldn't have been imported into Corporate American to staff IT departments, and people like Satya Nadella couldn't wind up in charge of one of the largest corporations in America and the world. The level of active "globalism" in the US just wouldn't work if the people making decisions were racist and the employees they had to work with were racist.

        Americans do hold racial biases towards African Americans specifically, but this is largely not the cause it's given credit for, but an effect of their everyday interactions in most cities with the large plurality of poor and criminally inclined African Americans. And you can't talk about that reality without blaming white racism for it and freeing African Americans from most all responsibility for it.

        As long as we continue to push the phony narrative of "racism" rather than "Americans don't like many African Americans", the propaganda will work. Once we acknowledge that white Americans are generally racially tolerant EXCEPT for African Americans, we will start to acknowledge the specific problems African Americans have (many of which are structural but not racist) and possibly get around to helping them. Once that happens, then the propaganda of racism won't really work.

      • The tough hombres & rapists comments come to mind

        Surely you're not yet another person who thinks that "MS-13" and "rapist" are races?

  • Net media must stop either micro-targeted ads (not likely for FB or Google) or political ads (since micro-targeted political ads are death to society). It only took big data science and social media to deliver the most hideous election in U.S. history and assist the ascendancy of white supremacism in what had been a nation of immigrants.

    All FB would have to do is hire human beings to turn down political ads, and the guts to pass up the money. Though broadcast TV takes the opposite path, at least TV does not intentionally try to fool the watcher into thinking everybody on that channel sees the same ads. The next step is to get money out of elections (every candidate gets the same budget for ads and buying supporters) and out of politics (flat dead impossible unless someone other than politicians makes the law).

    • Great idea, Li Feng! Then if we could just build some sort of "great internet firewall" to keep all the badthink out...

    • It only took big data science and social media to deliver the most hideous election in U.S. history

      Yeah, that and Facebook didn't cause Hillary to lose Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. You know what did? Ignoring the plight of real Americans who are really hurting. Telling them off and letting them know you absolutely refuse to represent their interests in the government. But continue smashing powerless people in the face with the whole "UR WHYTE SUPREMCST" thing. It feels good to speak trut

      • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2017 @07:30AM (#55265255)

        Yeah, that and Facebook didn't cause Hillary to lose Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. You know what did? Ignoring the plight of real Americans who are really hurting. Telling them off and letting them know you absolutely refuse to represent their interests in the government.

        The most successful trick Trump pulled during his campaign was convincing these people that he, a millionaire cosmopolitan and a 'globalist' in every sense of the word, would represent their interests, or that he cares about them in any sense. He doesn't. He's now been in office for 8 months and done very little, and his attempts are focused on giving out tax-breaks to the wealthiest segment of the US - his co-millionaires - at the cost of the very poorest.

        This is the main problem currently faced by all western democracies: there's a segment of poorly educated poorly employed people who do not understand why their jobs are gone and won't be coming back except as automated factories, and these people will vote for anyone who tells them that he'll get their jobs back and make everything better. Put another way: the people most negatively affected by the current economic development are also the ones with the least understanding of it, making them easy targets to manipulate into voting against their own interests.

        Hillary's main problem has always been that she's not really a charismatic figure in any way, nor is she a great speaker, put simply: she's way too boring and unenthusiastic. Trump isn't an orator either and seems to be running on a vocabulary of a 9 year-old, but what he has over Hillary is emotion: like any good salesman, he's able to deliver an enthusiastic pitch that gets people interested, it gets them listening. He's a superior showman and knows his crowd, but it doesn't make him a competent politician, that he's clearly not.

  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2017 @12:47AM (#55264123)

    Looks like a couple thousand dollars worth of foreign ads tipped the balance against a billion dollar campaign run by a powerful well-connected establishment.

    ... and I can't even get a 2% clickthrough rate on my adwords

    • Given how close the election was, even small things might have changed the outcome.

    • From TFA, fwiw: "According to Facebook, fraudulent accounts, which have now been closed, paid $100,000 for the ads." Still, point taken. Tip of the iceberg, though.

    • ... and I can't even get a 2% clickthrough rate on my adwords

      Not all goals are created equal. Getting Americans to vote against their own interests is about as difficult as making teenagers depressed.

      • Getting Americans to vote against their own interests

        Putting the wildly corrupt Clintons back into the power they demanded so they could continue to enrich themselves selling access ... THAT would have been against Americans' own interests. Giving Hillary Clinton the power to nominate Supreme Court justices when she came right out and told us that she was going to use that power as a foil against a not-liking-her-agenda legislature that she knew wouldn't follow her demands ... THAT would have been voting against Americans' own interests.

  • by SlovakWakko ( 1025878 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2017 @01:26AM (#55264201)
    $100,000? Like, really? The Clinton+Trump campaigns have spent together over $200,000,000 [bloomberg.com] on their campaigns. Either the Russians are absolute geniuses and light years ahead of everybody else when it comes to effective political ads, or this is just another inflated sensationalist article trying to get views for WaPo using a hot topic.
    Also, I'm somehow missing the connection to Russia in the article - it's once again presented as a certainty, but it is not explained how the authors managed to do the attribution to the Russian government. If this is considered a serious article in the US, I'm not surprised that "fake news" is a thing there. How about some critical thinking?
    Really, guys, to the rest of the world this histeria is beyond awkward and facepalming. Trump is your creature, born out of the swamp that is the 2-party scam, not some foreign plant. Reform your political system, and these things won't happen. Until you do so, according to the article everybody who has $100,000 to burn will be able to elect your president for you...
    • Unfortunately you're comment will be buried under load of rubbish, evil Russian comments / It's Putin's fault, because it just is not fun otherwise.

      • I know... and I guess it's not a problem, it's all just theatre for the masses anyway. The US need a boogeyman to justify a crazy $700bln military budget, Russia needs one to justify its autocratic system of government - and we have something to argue about :)
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      $100,000? Like, really? The Clinton+Trump campaigns have spent together over $200,000,000 [bloomberg.com] on their campaigns. Either the Russians are absolute geniuses and light years ahead of everybody else when it comes to effective political ads, or this is just another inflated sensationalist article trying to get views for WaPo using a hot topic.

      You really haven't been paying attention, have you? Yes, the Russians are well ahead of the curve. They've been doing this for a LONG time. Our allies warned us that they've been doing for a long time. They warned us that we were going to be targeted. Putin isn't fucking stupid. He caught on to how powerful (and cheap) using social media was as a tool. You get something to go viral even just once, and it's already paid back a thousand fold.

      And that's what happened. Not just here, but also in Europe. More to

      • You really haven't been paying attention, have you? Yes, the Russians are well ahead of the curve. They've been doing this for a LONG time. Our allies warned us that they've been doing for a long time. They warned us that we were going to be targeted. Putin isn't fucking stupid. He caught on to how powerful (and cheap) using social media was as a tool. You get something to go viral even just once, and it's already paid back a thousand fold.

        And that's what happened. Not just here, but also in Europe. More to the point, it was extremely successful.

        I've been paying attention for a long time now, and what I see is the same old thing - using Russia as a boogeyman. Before, it was the USSR's massive tank formations, submarines and nuclear weapons which everybody had to fear. Now, since their tank formations are just an outdated shadow of their former glory, their submarine fleet is tiny compared to the US' one, and the nuclear weapons are regulated by treaties, we need to fear something else they're oh-so-good at, right?
        And where exactly in Europe have t

    • $100k spend unethically can have a much bigger impact than $100k spent ethically (not that either Trump or Clinton are ethical people, but they have to deal with the consequences of unethical behavior being discovered and blamed on them, unlike Russia).

      Also, the election just happened to be extremely close, which is how a small push to one side could put them over the edge.

      • There is nothing ethical about any political campaign - especially in an election where $200mil get spent on electing somebody as Trump. If you want to get rid of unethical conduct in US presidential elections, get rid of the electoral college as a start. But even that won't help much IMO. As an outsider, I see Trump as the candidate of the horrible income inequality that exists in the US. Fix that, and frauds like Trump won't stand a chance. Keep the people who voted for him poor, uneducated and desperate,
  • I'm starting to think Putin probably dances to that classic youtube sensation every night before bed. His government spy agencies have manipulated the US population through our permeation with big tech beyond what I would have thought possible a couple of years ago.

  • by hord ( 5016115 )

    Is this news? Or is having a week-long war game named "Zapad" or "West" news?

  • by jonr ( 1130 )

    Does it matter now for what purpose whoever buys ads?

  • Anyone else speculating that the downtime was a Russian hacker response to the nasty topic?

    Would the paid Russian trolls please raise their keyboards so we can take a count?

    Actually I had a substantive response when I discovered the down-state of Slashdot. Let me see if I can recover those notes...

    [...] I just stopped by [this other system] because Slashdot is down and I was looking for possible explanations. Now I'm wondering if the invalid certificate might have been part of an attack that has mostly shut

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