Here Are The Fake Ads Russia Used During The Election — Did You Fall For One?

It's important we learn to spot these going forward.

The House Intelligence Committee released 14 Facebook and Instagram advertisements it says were produced by a Russian "troll farm" during the 2016 election. Previously undisclosed, officials say the ads reached at least 126 million Americans on social media and were intended to sow division across the country. Many of the ads touch on hot-button issues like religion, race, guns and immigration. 



"America, we have a problem," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said on Wednesday during a hearing, as reported by The New York Times. "We basically have the brightest minds of our tech community here and Russia was able to weaponize your platforms to divide us, to dupe us and to discredit democracy." 

One of the ads a Russian troll army deployed, this one targeted Facebook users in the U.S. ages 18 and older.
One of the ads a Russian troll army deployed, this one targeted Facebook users in the U.S. ages 18 and older. House Intelligence Committee

The ads the House Intelligence Committee have released to the public — combined — reached approximately 180,000 users, according to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But in September, Facebook said that Russian-bought advertisements reached 10 million people. This week, that number inflated significantly — a Facebook representative conceded it was more like 126 million Americans who were reached by Facebook advertisements alone, all of which were paid for by Russian operatives. It's unclear how many people came across additional advertisements and fake accounts from Twitter and Instagram.

It's also unclear what the content of those other advertisements was, but the investigators have long maintained the effort was to sow division, spread misinformation and benefit President Donald Trump. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week.

These advertisements and social media, in general, have become an intense focus of the Congressional investigation into how Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. On Thursday, Congress also released a 65-page PDF file containing 2,752 now-deactivated Twitter accounts operated by Russia's so-called Internet Research Agency. Some of those users, like "Jenna Abrams," were believed to be real people and became so popular that they were cited in various news reports.

This image, posted to an Instagram account, seems to promote the use of guns. It targeted Americans aged 13 and older and reached more than 50,000 people. 
This image, posted to an Instagram account, seems to promote the use of guns. It targeted Americans aged 13 and older and reached more than 50,000 people.  House Intelligence Committee

The release of the advertisements and the fake Twitter accounts is a good reminder to be skeptical of anything you find online.

In 2015, we published a guide on how to avoid fake news on the Internet. Many of the similar tactics can be used for spotting fake accounts or to be more thorough about where the information you're getting is coming from.

First, you should always Google the source you're getting your information from to see if it's known to be fake, biased, or controversial.

Second, you should double check the information with a second source to see if there is anyone else reporting the same thing (usually, big news will be reported by more than one outlet if it's accurate). 

Third, use fact-checking sites to verify the information inside the article is accurate. 

Fourth, do a double take for photoshop. A lot of times, fake news stories are built around images that are photoshopped to support the narrative. 

Fifth, and finally, be sure to share whatever it is you are reading responsibly. That means you shouldn't push it out unless you're absolutely true it's accurate.

Here's a guide on consuming media courtesy of WNYC.

It's worth noting that spotting these kinds of fake news and fake accounts isn't easy. It takes real diligence. In fact, one of the suspended accounts — @Ten_GOP — posed as a Tennessee GOP affiliate and was re-tweeted by both Donald Trump Jr. and White House advisor Kellyanne Conway

That's all the more reason to be extra careful about what you read and what you share. It's positive news that the House Intelligence Committee has revealed some bad actors, but the next steps are on all of us.

Cover image via Abraham Magnawa / Shutterstock.

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