The latest news on Russian interference

Democrats on the House intelligence committee just released all 3,519 Russian propaganda ads placed on Facebook.

Earlier this week, I wrote about what information related to Russian interference in the U.S. elections Americans need before this year’s midterm elections: the Senate intelligence committee report on the issue, the entire cache of Facebook ads that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) purchased targeting American voters, and a report from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office about Russian influence on the election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion. Two of those three are now in motion.

On Tuesday, the Senate intelligence committee released the first of what will be multiple reports on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The six-page report covers Russian cyberattacks on U.S. voting systems, explains what Russian hackers did and what their motives were, and lays out recommendations for government agencies to prevent foreigners from interfering in future elections. According to Buzzfeed, “The next report will evaluate the Intelligence Community’s January 2017 assessment that found the Russians waged an influence campaign in the 2016 elections and ‘developed a clear preference for’ President Donald Trump.”

Today, Democrats on the House intelligence committee released the entire cache of Russian Facebook and Instagram ads. It’s quite the document dump -- PDF files of all 3,519 ads including targeting information with each ad. The accompanying analysis makes clear that the same Russians whom Mueller’s office indicted for attempting to aid the Trump campaign are responsible for the ads. Here are a few more facts from the analysis worth noting:

 During the hearing, Committee Members noted the breadth of activity by the IRA on Facebook: 

  • 3,393 advertisements purchased (3,519 advertisements were released today);

  • More than 11.4 million American users exposed to those advertisements;

  • 470 IRA-created Facebook pages;

  • 80,000 pieces of organic content created by those pages; and

  • Exposure of organic content to more than 126 million Americans.

A few things of note about the ads. The data dump doesn’t include 80,000 pieces of organic content (content without an ad buy behind it) that Russian trolls spread on Facebook. (House Democrats promise they’ll eventually release that content as well.) .

In the report, House Democrats quote Mueller’s indictment of the 13 Russians that says Russia’s initial goal was to weaken American democracy but ultimately became electing Trump. There are a multitude of possible reasons for this -- all of which the special counsel is charged with investigating -- but it seems fair to say that if your goal is undermining American democracy, Trump is the guy you’d want running the country.

 Russia attacked America with a combination of sophisticated cyber tactics. Russians hacked some of our voting machines and ran a multiyear propaganda operation across multiple platforms. They exploited our political and cultural weaknesses for their own gain. The more Americans understand about their tactics, the better prepared we’ll be to combat their attacks in 2018 and beyond.