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Russia-linked Facebook ads sought to exploit US social divisions

They support claims this was an official Russian influence campaign.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There's been a lot of fuss over a Russian group buying Facebook ads in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, to the point where it's handing the ads to Congress as it investigates the scope of Russia's influence campaign. But what's in those ads, exactly? We might have a better idea. Washington Post sources say that the 3,000 ads headed to Congress were built to exploit American social divisions. Some championed activist groups like Black Lives Matter, while others portrayed them as existential threats. Others aimed to split opinions through hot-button issues like Islam, LGBT rights, gun rights and immigration.

The members of Congress involved in the investigation haven't seen the ads yet, but have confirmed at least some of the content following briefings. House Intelligence Committee lead Rep. Adam Schiff doesn't believe the ads were intended to drive incensed voters to the polls -- rather, they were meant as an act of "voter suppression" that discouraged involvement. That's backed by strategies seen elsewhere, such as attempts to fuel voter boycotts among Bernie Sanders supporters upset he didn't win the Democratic nomination.

While it's still not certain that the Russian government was directly behind the ads, they line up with strategies the country has used for decades, such as paying for ads in newspapers and even creating activist groups. The difference, of course, would be the scale that the internet involves. The $100,000 in ads may not sound like much, but that can get you a lot of views (BlitzMetrics' Dennis Yu believes it could be "hundreds of millions") with relatively little effort. Russia could have paid a relatively minuscule amount to achieve the effect of fostering division and discouraging voters.