Russian hacking, 2016 U.S. elections, social media, fake Americans | Homeland Security Newswire

The Russia connectionDeterring foreign interference in U.S. elections

Published 24 April 2018

A new study analyzes five million political ads on hot-button issues which ran on Facebook in the run-up to the 2016 election. Voters in swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were disproportionately targeted with ads featuring divisive issues like guns, immigration, and race relations. The divisive ads were purchased by 228 groups – 121 of these groups had no publicly trackable information.

Last week the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Issue One, in conjunction with University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Young Mie Kim and her team, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), published the results of a first-of-its-kind research of Facebook political ads in the 2016 elections. The study by Professor Kim and her team provides compelling support for the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan legislation that has been endorsed by tech companies including Facebook and Twitter that would help root out foreign interference in U.S. elections and make digital advertisers more accountable.

CLC says that Professor Kim and her team captured and analyzed five million paid ads on Facebook in the weeks ahead of the 2016 elections, and their study is forthcoming in the journal Political Communication. This research is the first, large-scale, systematic empirical analysis that investigates Facebook political advertising.

Of the 228 groups that purchased political ads about hot-button political issues in the weeks before the 2016 elections, 121 were identified by Professor Kim and her team as “suspicious” — which means that there was no publicly available information about nearly half of the sponsors of Facebook ads featuring hot-button political issues in the weeks before the 2016 elections. In this research, suspicious groups are unidentifiable, untrackable groups that have no public footprints. Professor Kim and her team identified a group as suspicious if no information about the group was found elsewhere, even after her team reviewed the Federal Election Commission, IRS-based databases, and other research databases.

A quarter of the ads the research examined mentioned candidates, and would be subject to disclosure requirements if aired on TV, but escaped those transparency measures because they were run online.