House Democrats release thousands of Russian-linked Facebook ads

House Democrats release thousands of Russian-linked Facebook ads

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released copies of Facebook ads created by a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin Thursday, providing the most comprehensive picture to date of the Russian campaign to use hot-button social and political issues to target Americans during the 2016 presidential election.

Lawmakers released roughly 3,000 ads from Facebook and Instagram in an effort to follow through on a commitment made by committee leaders last fall when lawmakers held hearings about the Russian social influence campaign.

At the time, the panel released a small sampling of the ads produced by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization accused of spreading disinformation that the committee says produced the content between 2015 and 2017.

“There’s no question that Russia sought to weaponize social media platforms to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Democrats have made all 3,519 advertisements /available online. According to the committee, content from the Internet Research Agency - including 80,000 pieces content from their 470 Facebook pages and advertisements - reached more than 126 million Americans. The ads reached more than 11.4 million American Facebook and Instagram users, the committee said.

The ads include content directed at African Americans, touching on the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and slavery. They targeted users in places including Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis – communities that had experienced high-profile police shootings and counter-protests – according to targeting information released by the committee.

Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, said in an ABC News interview last year that Internet Research Agency aimed to boost extreme voices in the United States, but grew more sophisticated over time.

“It began by just trying to foment discontent, classic Russian intelligence techniques of taking the most extreme voices in any society and amplifying them,” he said.

“So, it began with secessionist movements in the State of Texas and the State of California – ‘Secede from the union,’ you know, a very marginal strategy. It began with anti-immigrant groups. It began with white supremacists. Then, as we moved towards the election cycle, it got more specific."

Another ad posted to Instagram declared “Racism is not ‘Heritage and Honor.’ It’s time to stand up for what’s right.” The ad, which ran in Instagram for three days in March 2016, reached about 12,500 users and cost approximately $50 dollars to post.

Others highlighted social issues surrounding LGBT rights – including military service and marriage– and cultural figures such as Caitlyn Jenner.

Another alleged that singer Miley Cyrus wanted to marry a Victoria’s Secret model. Cyrus is engaged to actor Liam Hemsworth.

The ads – which frequently featured text in broken English - also focused on social issues including the debate over the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments.

One ad that reached Facebook users across the United States warned that “Liberals actually want to destroy American history and culture.”

“Some are even demanding that Washington, D.C. be renamed in the name of political correctness because George Washington owned slaves,” the ad said.

Others focused on boosting seemingly benign patriotic images and messages. One Facebook ad from the page “Being Patriotic” celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

The same page also included ads warning that “tax money” was “wasted on wars in the East instead of protect our own borders and support economy,” and other inflammatory messages about immigration.

Some of the ads focused on particular presidential candidates, including Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and encouraged users from to support and rally for particular candidates.

One Facebook ad from the group “United Muslims of America” that ran on March 17, 2016, declared that Muslim Americans “overwhelmingly support” Sanders’ bid for the White House in response to Trump’s campaign.

Facebook has removed the ads from its platforms and says it is working to combat similar activity on Facebook and Instagram.

They have instituted new policies requiring advertisers to disclose more information before posting political ads - and recently extended that policy to issue ads. The company says its also improved its ability to find and disable fake accounts on Facebook and is planning to add 10,000 new staffers to work on security and safety issues.

Facebook has also endorsed a legislative proposal to require additional disclosures with online political ads.

"As our CEO and Founder, Mark Zuckerberg told Congress last month we need to take a broader view of our responsibilities as a company. That means not just building products that help people connect — but also ensuring that they are used for good and not abused. We still have a long way to go. And will keep you updated on our progress," the company said in a statement Thursday.

In February special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups – including the Internet Research Agency - for alleged election interference.

ABC's Trish Turner and Matt Mosk contributed to this report.