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UPDATE: Newly Disclosed Facebook Ads Show Russia’s Cyber Intrusion

Facebook, Google and Twitter were testifying for the second day on Capitol Hill

The Latest on Russian use of Facebook, Twitter and Google to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election (all times local):

A trove of Facebook ads made public Wednesday by Congress depicts Russia’s extraordinary cyber intrusion into American life in 2016 aimed at upending the nation’s democratic debate and fomenting discord over such disparate issues as immigration, gun control and politics.

The ads, seen by vast numbers of people, encouraged street demonstrations against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and fostered support and opposition to Bernie Sanders, Muslims, gays, blacks and the icons of the Civil Rights movement.

The few dozen ads, a small sampling of the roughly 3,000 Russian-connected ones that Facebook has identified and turned over to Congress, were released amid two consecutive days of tough and sometimes caustic questioning by House and Senate lawmakers about why social media giants hadn’t done more to combat Russian interference on their sites.

The ads underscore how foreign agents sought to sow confusion, anger and discord among Americans through messages on hot-button topics. U.S. intelligence services say the Russian use of social media was part of a broad effort to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Kremlin worked with the Trump campaign to influence voters.

Many of the ads show careful targeting, with messages geared toward particular audiences. One ad, aimed at those with an interest in civil rights and their leaders, highlights a man who claims to be Bill Clinton’s illegitimate son. Another video parodying Trump was targeted at blacks who also are interested in BlackNews.com, HuffPost Politics or HuffPost Black Voices. It was shown 716 times and got 42 clicks.

Though officials at Facebook and other social media giants were initially reluctant to acknowledge Russian success on their sites in swaying popular opinion, company leaders have struck a different tone in recent weeks and disclosed steps to Congress they say are intended to prevent future meddling by foreign agents.

In preparation for hearings this week, Facebook disclosed that content generated by a Russian group, the Internet Research Agency, potentially reached as many as 126 million users. Company executives said that going forward they would verify political ad buyers in federal elections, requiring them to reveal correct names and locations. The site will also create new graphics where users can click on the ads and find out more about who’s behind them.

But that did not prevent hours of questioning during two days of hearings, with lawmakers expressing exasperation at the seeming inability to thwart foreign intervention.

At one point during a hearing Tuesday, Sen. Al Franken shook his head after he couldn’t get all the companies to commit to not accepting political ads bought with foreign currency. Several ads touting Facebook pages called “Back the Badge,” ”Being Patriotic,” ”Blacktivist,” ”South United” and “Woke Blacks” were labeled as being paid for in rubles using Qiwi, a Moscow-based payment provider that aims to serve “the new generation in Russia” and former Soviet republics, according to the company’s website.

“Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “You can’t put together rubles with a political ad and go like, ‘Hmmm, those data points spell out something pretty bad?’ “

Besides the ads released by lawmakers on the House intelligence committee, Democrats on the panel also released four tweets from RT, a Russian state-sponsored television network, and more than 2,700 Twitter handles active during the final months of the election campaign.

Taken together, they show how actual news events and stories helped shape surreptitious Russian messaging.

One advertisement cited a real October 2016 news story — about a gunman’s battle with Boston police officers — then used it to attack Hillary Clinton as “the main hardliner against cops” and to promote Trump as the candidate who can “defend the police from terrorists.” It received 761 clicks.

Three of the tweets referenced Clinton, including one that linked to an RT story about the release of a batch of hacked emails from her campaign chairman, John Podesta. Another featured a video of Clinton falling while getting into a van. “What impact will this stumble have on #Hillary’s campaign?” it read.

Some 34,000 Trump supporters were shown an ad calling for Clinton’s removal from the ballot, citing “dynastic succession of the Clinton family” as a breach of core principles laid out by the Founding Fathers. Clicking on it took Facebook users to a petition at WhiteHouse.gov. Another, seen by more than 15,000 people and getting some 1,300 clicks, equated Clinton with President Barack Obama’s “anti-police and anti-constitutional propaganda.”

Though U.S. intelligence officials believe the social media effort was aimed at aiding Trump, there are other indications it was intended to sow general divisions.

One ad promoted a Nov. 12 anti-Trump rally in New York City, titled “Not My President.” Large anti-Trump rallies actually did take place around the country that day in major American cities. That doesn’t mean the Russian accounts planned the events, but rather that they were piggybacking on existing protests and promoting them to like-minded people.

Lawmakers said some Russian-linked ads, including one from an account purporting to be linked to the Tennessee Republican Party, were shared not only by ordinary Americans, but by members of the Trump campaign and administration, including Trump’s son Donald Jr. and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Not all of Russia’s activity was intended to intervene in the election, said Salve Regina University professor James Ludes, who has written on Russia’s influence on the United States.

The ads on divisive issues such as race and gun ownership — or even organizing opposing rallies across the street from each other — are meant to “attack political cohesion” and make Americans turn against one another, he said.

“It’s not intended to benefit once candidate or another per se, but raise political temperature,” Ludes said. “Make us feel like we are coming apart at the seams.”

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5 p.m.

A Democrat on the House intelligence committee says Tuesday’s attack on a New York City bike path shows there is still misinformation promoted on social media platforms.

Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley said If you clicked on the trending topic “New York City terrorist attack” on Twitter, the top link was from the website Infowars. That site is run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Quigley said it was a “real-time example” of misinformation being weaponized.

Sean Edgett, Twitter’s general counsel, said the system corrected the link but he doesn’t know how long it was at the top. He said it was “a bad user experience and we don’t want to be known for that.”

Eight people were killed when the attacker drove a rented truck onto the bike path near the World Trade Center memorial.

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4:30 p.m.

A member of the House intelligence committee is challenging Facebook on its diversity.

Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell says members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited Facebook’s California headquarters last month. She suggests it will be hard for the company to monitor for ads from Russia that try to stoke racial tensions if employees at the company aren’t diverse.

In the U.S., 3 percent of Facebook’s workforce is black. Sewell said Wednesday the company should make sure it is not “adding to the problem,” and asked the company’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, if she should trust those vetting the ads are a diverse work force.

Stretch said the company understands the importance of diversity.

Many of the more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads that Facebook has turned over to the panel attempt to stoke racial tensions from all sides.

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4:10 p.m.

Documents released by House lawmakers show that Russian-linked organizations buying Facebook ads weren’t always successful in getting their message seen.

One pro-Bernie Sanders ad from a group purportedly called the “United Muslims of America” was narrowly targeted — to those who already follow that group, as well as their friends. Consequently, the ad got just 11 views, and no one clicked it.

Because Facebook charges based on the number of views, the ad cost less than six rubles (10 cents).

Payment was through Qiwi, a Moscow-based payment provider. The company’s website says Qiwi aims to serve “the new generation in Russia” and former Soviet republics.

The ads were released Wednesday as representatives of leading social media companies faced criticism on Capitol Hill about why they hadn’t done more to combat Russian interference on their sites and prevent foreign agents from meddling in last year’s election.

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3:45 p.m.

The House intelligence committee is only releasing a sampling of the more than 3,000 ads that Facebook has turned over to the panel.

Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the committee’s probe into Russian interference, has said the committee will release the ads. But Conaway only released five ads on Wednesday as the panel grilled representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google. Committee Democrats released around two dozen more.

In a memo, the committee Democrats said the panel is working to “scrub personally identifiable information” so they can release the ads.

The ads released by Conaway were all paid for in Russian rubles and directed users to pages that targeted different groups: “Blactivist,” ”Woke blacks,” ”South United,” ”Being Patriotic” and “Back the Badge.”

The ads received between 32,000 and 73,000 clicks.

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3:30 p.m.

The release of a trove of Facebook ads bought by a Russian firm show a clear attempt to target the information to certain audiences.

The release included details on ad placements and spending. In one case, one of the ads — a video parodying Donald Trump — targeted blacks who also are interested in BlackNews.com, HuffPost Politics or HuffPost Black Voices. It was shown 716 times and got 42 clicks.

The ads were released Wednesday as representatives of leading social media companies faced criticism on Capitol Hill about why they hadn’t done more to combat Russian interference on their sites and prevent foreign agents from meddling in last year’s election.

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2:40 p.m.

Lawmakers have released troves of Facebook ads linked to a Russian internet agency and meant to influence American public opinion.

The ads were released Wednesday as officials from Facebook and other social media companies faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent Russian agents from interfering with the American political process. Many of the ads purchased during the 2016 election focused on divisive social issues like immigration and gay rights.

In preparation for hearings this week, Facebook disclosed that content generated by a Russian group, the Internet Research Agency, potentially reached as many as 126 million users. Facebook had earlier turned over more than 3,000 advertisements linked to that group.

Twitter also disclosed that it has uncovered and shut down 2,752 accounts linked to the same group.

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12:25 p.m.

Lawmakers are demanding answers from leading social media companies about why they haven’t done more to combat Russian interference on their sites.

One Democrat says congressional action might be needed in response to what she calls “the start of cyberwarfare” against American democracy.

Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled at times to defend themselves against complaints they didn’t act quickly or thoroughly enough as it became evident that Russians used the sites to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says his questions about the interference were “blown off” by the companies until this summer.

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