A Blog by Jonathan Low


Nov 2, 2017

How Russian Intelligence Targeted Its Facebook Ads and How They Performed

The objective was not to target one particular demographic, but to create widespread division and discord across the entire 'market.'

It succeeded. JL

Taylor Hatmaker reports in Tech Crunch and Susan Glasser reports in Politico:

No one was exempt. The Russian ads targeted the far left and the far right, seeking to manipulate black activists, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQ people, gun owners and fans of Ivanka Trump’s jewelry. Sometimes the ads were targeted by location, organizing real-life events in states like New York and Florida. The ad spend positively correlates to how many impressions and clicks a given ad generated. "Their objective was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations."
Tech Crunch
It’s impossible to know just how much stuff being circulated on social networks is Russian state content in sheep’s clothing, although tech companies are scrambling to figure that out. Now, thanks to Congress, we just got a rare peek behind the curtain of how Facebook’s ad operations were manipulated by a foreign power to foment outrage and division in American society.
The House Intelligence Committee published a selection of Facebook and Instagram political ads that were bought by entities linked to the Russian government. All of these ads appealed to divisions in American society, often falling along political and identity-based fault lines. The committee signaled last month that it would be releasing all 3,000 of the ads that Facebook had provided, but instead it opted to share a sample of around 25 U.S. political and issue-based ad buys with Russian government links. (We’ve collected those here in one place so you don’t have to deal with the PDFs.)
As the chart below illustrates, no one was exempt. The Russian ads targeted the far left and the far right, seeking to manipulate black activists, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQ people, gun owners and even fans of Ivanka Trump’s jewelry line. Sometimes the ads were targeted by location, organizing real-life events in states like New York and Florida.
As you’d expect, the ad spend positively correlates to how many impressions and clicks a given ad generated, though only a few of these ad campaigns — which are not by any means all of the ads — cost much over $1,000.
We’ve known some of this, but today we got to see not just a representative sample of the ads themselves, but how much they cost, who exactly they targeted and how well they performed. It’s interesting stuff, so we collected it into a sortable chart with links to images of the ads so you can see for yourself.

America’s former top spymaster has a few things he’d like to clear up about the Russia investigation.

James Clapper, a crusty ex-cargo pilot who rose through the Air Force ranks and retired as director of national intelligence in January, only to emerge publicly as one of President Donald Trump’s foremost critics, wants you to know that no matter how much Trump rants about the “Russia hoax,” the 2016 hacking was not only real and aimed at electing Trump but constituted a major victory for a dangerous foreign adversary. “The Russians,” he said, have “succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.”
Far from being the “witch hunt” Trump has repeatedly called it, the investigation of whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia constitutes a “cloud not only over the president, but the office of the presidency, the administration, the government and the country” until it is resolved, Clapper told me in an extensive new interview for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs.
And yes, Clapper is sticking with his view that the allegations are “worse than Watergate,” given that the Russiagate investigation involves “a foreign adversary actively and aggressively and directly engaging in our political processes to interfere with them and to undermine our system, whereas in Watergate you were dealing with a two-bit petty burglary, domestic only.”
With special prosecutor Robert Mueller now reported to have secured the first indictment in the Russiagate probe, Clapper commented at length in our interview on the investigation whose initial stages he observed up close as President Barack Obama’s top intelligence official, telling me that new revelations in recent months have only deepened his concern about the Russian intervention—beyond what even Obama’s most senior officials knew before last year’s election. “We had a general awareness, for example, of Russian use of social media—Facebook ads, use of Twitter, fake news implants—we had a general understanding of that,” Clapper said. “But now, as time has elapsed and time has gone on, I’ve certainly learned a lot more about the depth and breadth of what the Russians were about,” he added, referring to recent reports of an extensive and sophisticated Russian campaign of purchasing targeted ads on those platforms, creating false-front groups aimed at everyone from Black Lives Matter supporters to anti-immigration activists, and spreading misinformation.
Clapper has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the Russia investigation since Trump came to office denying the U.S. intelligence community finding that Clapper made public last year: that Russia had intervened explicitly on Trump’s behalf. At times, he’s even seemed to infuriate the president, who has publicly compared Clapper and other intelligence pros to Nazis, falsely claimed they illegally wiretapped him at Trump Tower, and taunted him and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for having “choked like dogs” in Hill testimony.
In our interview, I asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin now believes he is winning in his campaign against the United States.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Clapper responded. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”
“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”
A year ago, the idea of James Clapper as a pundit, a public figure who would spend his days yakking on CNN, giving interviews and responding to intemperate tweets, was simply unthinkable. “Public appearances don’t come easy to James Clapper,” said the lead sentence of an extensive profile of America’s top spy that appeared last November in Wired magazine. And yet here he is, a gruff, press-averse, 75-year-old veteran of the closest thing America has to a “deep state” for more than five decades, speaking out nearly every day of the Trump presidency. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”
In a year of strange twists, his transformation may well be one of the strangest.
This is, after all, is no limelight-seeking politician trashing the man in the White House for a quick cable-TV adrenaline rush. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”) Clapper was not only a fierce defender of the post-9/11 widening of the intelligence-gathering net but a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”
A villain to many critics of America’s vast surveillance regime, he’s perhaps the most unlikely Trump basher out there.
In some ways, it’s a role Clapper still finds unsettling. When we met the other morning off the lobby of a Manhattan hotel, he was every bit the anonymous former spook, dressed in a blue blazer and sport shirt, as he talked about his “reverence” for the office of the president and how his family has served in intelligence ever since his father’s World War II service. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”
Even after Trump’s election, Clapper clearly didn’t anticipate—at least at first—a new life in the spotlight, as is clear listening to his account of what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.
When Trump, to his surprise, picked up, Clapper recounted, “I attempted to impart to him what a national treasure he was inheriting in the form of the U.S. intelligence community, that was standing by to do everything it could to help him and support him in the very difficult job he was taking on, where information—and, specifically, intelligence—was going to be invaluable in helping him make decisions and gauge risk. And so, I, again, felt I couldn’t let that pass, and I needed to attempt to defend the community.”
Clapper told me his own realization about Russia’s attack on the U.S., combined with Trump’s refusal to accept it, had prompted his turn toward public activism. He described the election hacking as his “wake-up call,” and said he had concluded that Russia remains a “profound threat” to the United States to which Trump’s administration has so far shown “indifference.”
In our conversation, Clapper contrasted Trump’s focus on undermining the Iran nuclear deal forged by Obama, despite international observers’ repeated finding that Iran is in compliance with the deal, with what appears to be indifference toward more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that—I just find it worrisome, bothersome, that there isn’t more focus on the threat posed by Russia,” he said.
But Clapper doesn’t comment about just Trump and Russia these days.

He also ranged widely from his worries about the standoff with North Korea to last week’s Communist Party Congress in China to the recent controversy involving White House chief of staff John Kelly and whether it signals an overreliance by Trump on current and former generals in positions meant for civilians.
“I just thought it was terrible,” he said, referring to the public fight between the White House and a military wife who lost her husband in an attack in Niger and said she was offended by Trump in a condolence call. Kelly, in the course of that fight, complained bitterly about a congresswoman who listened in on the Trump call, even misrepresenting a speech she had given, and appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.
He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”
“Once you’re out of uniform and you’re in a political position—which he’s in—people do listen to that, but I don’t believe that entitles any of us to being unquestioned. It would have been great for me in the 16 years that I served in civilian capacities after I left the military if, well, I got a pass. No one is ever going to question anything I said or did. Well, they certainly did, and that is appropriate in our system,” Clapper said.
More generally, I asked whether Clapper—who retired from the military in 1995 but still carries the bearing of his three decades in the Air Force—worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”
In particular, he added, Mattis “carries perhaps a greater burden than any of his predecessors.” The comment sounded ominous, but it remained spymaster-cryptic; when I pressed for explanation, Clapper didn’t offer any.
He did, however, suggest that Mattis will have a tough task ahead with Pyongyang, where Clapper—who early in his intelligence career served as an analyst responsible for North Korea—said he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.
The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.
“Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”
Inevitably, though, any conversation with James Clapper these days begins and ends with Trump and Russia.
I asked him as our interview neared an end to put his intelligence analyst hat on and answer perhaps Washington’s No. 1 parlor game question: Does he think Trump will serve out his full term?
Yes, Clapper answered, “I do. I think it would take a lot to remove him from office. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”
In the end, he is still more intelligence analyst than advocate. “So I’m not sure,” Clapper concluded, “that an outcome like that—the president’s removal—would be a good thing.”

Facebook and Instagram ads provided to Congress

6030018-24 (10.34%)25-34 (41.38%)35-44 (34.48%)45-54 (12.76%)+55 (1.03%)Workforce breakdown by Gender and Age
Group or causePlatformImpressionsClicksTarget infoCost in RUBUSDAd date
Black MattersFacebook201,42812,127Atlanta, GA; Maryland; Ferguson, St. Louis, MO; Virginia53,4245$9177/13/15
Black MattersFacebook359,34524,838Interests: BlackNews.com or HuffPost Black Voices; Behaviors: African American (US)58,408$1,00311/5/15
BlacktivistFacebook289,78113,310Interests: Human rights, African American culture, Malcolm X; People who Match: Behaviors: African American (US)40,411$69412/10/15
Defend the 2ndFacebook301,60824,955Interests: Right to keep and bear arms, The Second Amendment, National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Sisters, Gun Owners of America, Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, Concealed carry in the United States, Gun Rights, National Association for Gun Rights, Guns & Ammo or Gun Rights Across America, Employers: Gun Owners of America; Must also match: Interest in the 2nd Amendment
Don't ShootFacebook103,61410,629Interests: Cop Block105,586$1,81311/6/15
Don't ShootFacebook226,2629,657Interests: Cop Block54,729$9405/5/16
Secured BordersFacebook15,3702,158Interests: Conservatism, Confederate States of America, Donald Trump, Republican Party or Dixie10,190$1756/7/16
Muslim AmericaFacebook73,0773,063Interests: Zaid Shakir, Muslims for America or Abu Eesa Niamatullah51,193$87912/18/15
Muslim AmericaFacebook110People who like United Muslims of America5.92$.093/17/16
Donald Trump AmericaFacebook34,9436,276Interests: Donald Trump, Donald Trump for President or Donald Trump Jr.14,607$2518/2/16
LGBT UnitedFacebook84854People who like LGBT United and friends of people who like LGBT United111$1.913/24/16
LGBT UnitedFacebook4,798240Interests: Bernie Sanders, LGBT rights by country or territory, LGBT community, Hillary Clinton or same-sex marriage3,137$545/11/16
American MadeInstagram165,12178Interests: The Tea Party, Donald Trump, Donald Trump for President, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry or Donald Trump Jr.9,971$1714/19/16
Heart of TexasFacebook3,361808Location: Texas; Interest: Independence or Patriotism500$8.588/4/16
Williams and KalvinFacebook71642Exclude: Behaviors - Hispanic (US) or Asian American; Target people who match: Behaviors - African American and must also match Interests: BlackNews.com, HuffPost Politics or HuffPost Black Voices300$5.153/17/16
Born LiberalFacebook1,938222Interests: Bernie Sanders500$8.586/8/16
Army of JesusFacebook7114Interests: Laura Ingraham, God, Ron Paul, Christianity, Bill O' Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Andrew Breitbart, Bible, Conservatism in the United States, Michael Savage, Faith, Mike Huckabee or Jesus64$1.1010/19/16
American VeteransInstagram17,654517Interests: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Veterans for America, Support our Troops, US Military Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Support our Veterans, Concerned Veterans for America or Supporting our Veterans3,084$538/17/16
BM - Not My President rallyFacebook18826Location: Living in New York, NY (+10 mi.); People who match: People who like BM, Friends of people connected to BM113$1.9411/9/16
Being PatrioticFacebook3,362761People who like Being Patriotic500$8.5810/14/16
Group or causePlatformImpressionsClicksTarget infoCost in RUB


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