Congressional investigators learned Monday that one of the Russian-bought advertisements on Facebook featured a picture of a black woman armed with a rifle and pulling the trigger without having a bullet in the chamber.
People familiar with the investigation into Russian interference in U.S. political and civic affairs told the Washington Post that while investigators believe the ad may have been created to simultaneously encourage African-American militancy and stoke fear within white communities, the exact purpose of the ad is unclear.
This is just the latest evidence of what is being described as Russian use of U.S.-based technology platforms to target Americans and exploit already divided political and racial factions in American society over the last two years.
As previously reported on The Root, Facebook ads purchased by the Russian-government-affiliated troll farm the Internet Research Agency referenced Black Lives Matter and specifically targeted people in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
The ad appeared on Facebook sometime between late 2015 and early 2016, and it could be seen as both supporting Black Lives Matter and representing it as a threat to white communities in Ferguson and Baltimore.
More than 3,000 ads were purchased by the agency with the intent of widening the already existing divide in America and bolstering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The Post reports that among the other ads shown to the congressional investigators Monday were some that featured photos of Hillary Clinton behind what looked like prison bars—which went along with calls Trump made during his campaign to “lock her up” for her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state.
There were also ads that denigrated undocumented immigrants and highlighted Muslim support of Hillary Clinton.
Malkia Cyril—a Black Lives Matter activist in Oakland, Calif., and executive director for the nonprofit Center for Media Justice—told the Post: “These ads are racist propaganda, pure and simple. Whether they appear to be in support or in opposition to black civil rights is irrelevant. Their aim is to subvert democracy for everyone by using anti-black stereotypes—an idea as old as America.”
According to the Post, as the government probe into how Russian operatives used Twitter, Facebook and other platforms widens, those companies are under increased pressure from Capitol Hill to investigate Russian meddling and could face new regulations that would affect their advertising businesses.
In an interview Sunday, Facebook’s vice president for U.S. public policy, Joel Kaplan, told the Post: “The big picture is that we’re stepping up tomorrow to help Congress understand foreign interference on the ad platform and to make improvements to the ad platform to enhance transparency. We’re committed to doing our part to prevent this type of malicious interference.”
Last week, Twitter shut down 201 accounts that it said were tied to the same Russian operatives who bought the Facebook ads, and the Post reports that Google is also conducting an investigation into possible Russian meddling on its platform.
Read more at the Washington Post.