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Fakebook: A tool exploring the 2016 U.S. election Facebook ads bought by Russia (fathom.info)
127 points by jashkenas 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

This doesn't really communicate anything. All the examples are something of this ad about americans liking cars was targeted to americans who like cars. I don't at all deny Russia meddling, but the website does a poor job at showing what they were trying to influence.

Example: This ad targeted people interested in same-sex marriage and 12 more.

We speak for all fellow members of LGBT community across the nation.

How is this influencing anything, all it does is advertise a group to people who would be interested in that group? They aren't stoking the flame or promoting racism/etc.

So the long standing rumor is that Russia influenced the US election through Facebook. Okay, fine.

You know what I want to hear about? The wealthy Americans who used Facebook to influence the US election. If Facebook can be used in this way, I think looking at what Russia did is interesting, but it’s not the only story! The story is, people are subtly and quietly influincing our elections! Shouldn’t we look closely at everyone who did that? Not solely the Russian bogeyman?

You seem to be conflating the workings of a flawed democracy with meddling by a foreign power. Those are nothing like the same thing.

Vladimir Putin and Robert Mercer both seem like foreign powers to me.

Russia spend is estimated at $100k between 2015 and 2017, when Trump and Clinton spent $81M on Facebook alone.

I've spent more than the Russians did on Facebook ads, to think that amount of money was a deciding factor is pretty absurd.

Is it absurd though? Russia probably didn't follow any disclosure laws. Also, these ads are more about driving traffic to groups with content designed to influence people without coming off as ads. I guess the real question is how much Clinton and Trump spent on astro-turfing vs Russia's ads.

It's absurd. 100k vs 81m. If their ads were that much more effective for that much less money, they've not just got the best marketing pros in the business, they've discovered some revolutionary secret to advertising. What's the most likely explanation? 100k ads from Russia tilted the election, or Hillary was a shit candidate. Could it be that someone's ego is at play in this narrative besides Trump's?

No, when Obama does it, it’s a smart use of new technologies. When Trump gets elected it’s a foreign nation that stole the election. Also the front page of the Economist this week is about why the US electoral system is biased in favor of Republicans and therefore needs to be reformed (and of course this wasn’t an issue a few years ago when the very same system was thought to structurally favour democrats, and likely to block Trump).

Not a US voter, no skin in the game myself (and I would vote neither D nor R anyway), but I find all these excuses to a lost election unconvincing.

No, that’s nice but it’s a different issue. We already have plenty of inquiry into the influence of Americans with money on politics, with Citizens United and whatnot.

A hostile foreign government’s operations to propagandize Americans about politics is important to analyze.

Call it a different issue, that’s fine. But it’s an issue I want to hear about! I haven’t heard nearly the hand wringing over home grown control as I have over Russia.

> I haven’t heard nearly the hand wringing over home grown control as I have over Russia.

If you haven't heard the hand-wringing over the influence of money in politics in the US, you've literally paid zero attention to any US politics for at least the last, oh, half century. (And the hand-wringing didn't start then, it's just been ubiquitous for about that long; it's really older than the US, since the main line of complaint in the US on that score is basically a continuation of a complaint about the political influence of moneyed special interests that has been repeated fairly consistently, in every generation, since it appeared in The Wealth of Nations.)

OTOH, the problem, while widely viewed a significant, is also widely accepted as a routine and perennial feature of liberal democracy, whereas a foreign influence operation deeply bound up with a domestic Presidential campaign is still considered unusual and extreme.

I’ve seen plenty of concern over citizens United and the unfair influence of money in politics, so you might want to broaden your sources. Your posts remind me of basically what Trump is saying, that evil things that other countries do are fine because we are hypocrites, or other countries attacking us is okay because it’s our fault we’re vulnerable.

jshevek 7 months ago [flagged]

I've never heard Trump say this. I would be happy to read any sources or analysis which supports your claim.

Original: I’ve seen plenty of concern over citizens United and the unfair influence of money in politics, so you might want to broaden your sources. Your posts remind me of basically what Trump is saying, that evil things that other countries do are fine because we are hypocrites, or other countries attacking us is okay because it’s our fault we’re vulnerable.

“He’s defended Putin’s authoritarian rule (“he’s a strong leader”) and, when asked about the murder of Putin opponents, said the United States has murdered people, too — much as Putin asserted in his interview with Chris Wallace”

Supports my first point. From The Chicago Sun Times, with links: https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/president-donald-tru...

And to support my second point, here you go: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/15/trump-russia-hack-...

“The DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses, and they were able to be hacked,” Trump said

Almost verbatim what I said, isn’t it?


jshevek 7 months ago [flagged]

Neither of your subsequent characterizations of Trump's statements justifies the original claim you made. I'd be happy to read any supporting evidence which does so, without hyperbole or misrepresentation.

"I can easily back up what I said about trump. When asked about Putin and Russia killing people, he said the US killed many people (a very well known incident - do I need to google it for you?)

When he spoke just a few days ago, he said that while Russia may have hacked the DNC, they also tried to hack the RNC and didn’t get in due to their superior defenses (which is incidentally false, they did get hacked). And, that it was the Democratic Party’s fault that they had weak protection. Again, a very well known incident analyzed on detail widely in our media - want me to google it for you?

Ha, thanks for quoting me. Gosh, I promise not to edit. This is silly. Your post is pretty much advertising that you don’t know what you’re talking about, but you still down voted me and replied."

I have absolutely no idea why you think you need to quote me. I can’t even edit my responses at this point, and I do not back down from anything I say. Simply because you plead ignorance about plain facts is not persuasive. If you are confused about this, maybe you should do some research - Simply searching the keywords in my statements would easily supply the evidence that you claim doesn’t exist. It’s not my job to inform you.

There’s a certain method of dispute on discussion forums like this where when someone sees facts that they dislike, they will insist that it has to be cited, from a source hey approve of course! Otherwise they will loudly insist that it is clearly false, because the other person didn’t take all the time to cut and paste a bunch of links and do web searches, as if this is a Wikipedia article or something.

Nothing I posted is even remotely controversial, except perhaps to people who are firmly convinced of the opposite already.

If you feel my statements contained hyperbole or misrepresentation, could you please clarify that? Because I’m not seeing any trace of that in what I said. In your statements, I just see flat denials without no content. In fact, you are misrepresenting the content and character of my statements.

It should be equally as important as any other valid hostile entity with proven strength.

Sure, like which entities do you mean? I think it is worth distinguishing from domestic and external, and state actors vs. non-state.


That’s a great topic too. But I don’t think we need to wait for one to do the other. It’s also worth noting that we did not fight an extremely expensive and unnerving political struggle for 60 years with Israel, and we are at no risk of entering into hostilities with Israel.

I'm taking a wild guess here: The ads look like they were intended to drive traffic to pages, which would be the real 'meat' of the campaign. The ads themselves aren't very interesting.

Also, the image data is missing. A lot of these are non-sequiturs without the picture.

It's just terrible UX. The images show if you hover over the camera icon (assuming something else isn't broken for you). E.g. the car example is a picture of the General Lee (or something similar with the Confederate flag on top of it).

The south rising again is a giant confederate flag. Etc.

Most of the ads has around 10-20 impressions.

Turns out influencing people with seemingly small pieces of seemingly unconnected information is extremely effective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQXe1CokWqQ (link to Darren Brown's Advertising Experiment)

> the website does a poor job at showing what they were trying to influence.

Maybe they weren't trying to do that. I know it's uncommon these days, but maybe they just wanted to present the facts, and allow us to deduce whatever we wanted to deduce from them.

But I need to be explicitly told what to not only think, but feel!

"This doesn't really communicate anything. All the examples are

... How is this influencing anything, all it does is "

I agree with your impressions, but I think that it 'communicates' the most important thing of all: Data without much spin, without excessive interpretation and cherry picking.

My takaway is: The Russian sponsored ad campaign is not as serious as some would like us to believe.

Yeah, okay - many others like yourself want to convince us it is not significant.

So what about their hacking of state and national elections systems, hacking into voter databases, voting machine software companies? There have been a wide variety of warnings from wide variety of national security agencies concerning Russian activity that goes far beyond advertising propaganda.

I'm confused, none of these ads seem to be targeted at influencing the election. Is that the point?

I’ll refer you to ashelmire’s comment above.


TL;DR - The point of the Russian campaign is classic psyops[1]. Sow division, discord and disbelief in authorities and institutions.

One might well argue that the US was “primed” for such a campaign by the recent history of cynical manipulation of the public for political ends.

At this point, I find myself asking, “under what possible circumstances could the majority (irrespective of ‘sides’) ever regain trust in their elected officials?”

I can’t come up with an answer. There is now sufficient disbelief that any attempts to regain trust would invariably come across as further attempts to manipulate.

If, like me, you believe that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”, then this is pretty depressing.

[1] https://www.corbettreport.com/psyops-101-an-introduction-to-...

Seriously why can't hackernews provide me with some examples. This is the most meticulous community i've ever seen.

Depends on if you need an "excuse" as to how Trump won. If you do, and that excuse is "RUSSIA", you may be interested in the topic.

Otherwise, you may see it for what it is, $100k worth of ads that don't really do anything, some pro-Clinton, some not.

I think it's telling that tech people are very skeptical of the "$100k in facebook ads turned the election" narrative. Read the actual report from the DNI. Election counts weren't altered, the ads are nothing-burger. The hacks on mail systems were primarily done with spear-phishing, the same things businesses are caught with every day. My conclusion - phishing is the real story here of any consequence, if we want to "do something" it should be centered around better defense against this. That said, it's very interesting that Podesta's emails DID reveal collusion between the campaign and revolving-door political/media employees (CNN leaking debate questions to Hillary, etc). That's also a very significant story, and the more the narrative about Russia sucks all the oxygen out of the room, the less we're talking or even thinking about that kind of corrupt shit.

> I think it's telling that tech people are very skeptical of the "$100k in facebook ads turned the election" narrative.

But...that narrative doesn't exist, it's a strawman.

No one that attributes any significant impact on the election to the Russian information warfare operation limits their description of the operation to $100K in Facebook ads. The Facebook part of the operation involved ads designed (among other purposes) to draw audience to false-flag Pages, that then distributed non-ad propaganda which would be relayed by the followers of the group, who were dupes of the operation, including organizing meat-space events designed to foment conflict and draw conventional media attention. The $100K on ads wasn't the operation, it was an expenditure to recruit unwitting agents for the operation.

And that broader Facebook angle itself wasn't the whole operation, either, there was also the targeted hacking and information release aspect, as well as other channels through which influence was (or was attempted to be) exercised. Like the NRA.

> No one that attributes any significant impact on the election to the Russian information warfare operation limits their description of the operation to $100K in Facebook ads.

You are technically correct. The $100k part of it is stripped out before the "Russian Facebook hacking to steal the election" is reported over and over in the media, absent of any details. And that is how the majority of the public is absolutely certain of something, even though almost none of them know any of the details.

I've never heard anyone claim that "$100k in facebook ads turned the election".

How this comment isn't massively downvoted - I have no idea. I ate my face on this site saying exactly the same thing last week.

There are unethical things discovered from the Clinton campaign in the wake of a spear phishing attack. How can I be more mad at the messenger than the people who did the unfavorable actions in the first place? Why should I believe a guy with "P@sswor0d" was hacked by Russian Intelligence vs any one of the other thousand people looking for credentials on this guy?

I've looked through the Russian posts a few times, and to me it seems quite tame compared to the bitter, nasty, divisive rhetoric I hear sometimes from my fellow Americans. If this is the kind of thing that hurts our country, our own politicians are doing a far better job than the Russians.

Most of them are pretty tame but that's the point. It's something with a slight slant to get people to engage then it's all about slowly isolating them and luring them a bit farther down the rabbit hole with crazier and crazier shared posts.

It'd be hard to recruit for a cult that starts with poison kool aid on day one.

Where can I see the "crazier and crazier shared posts"?

Thats what I came to see. Until I see this I call bullshit on the entire thing and seriously question the objectivity of those that push this theory. And thats not me being partisan thats just me being annoyed at the lack of real evidence being presented here.

Since getting results out of this seems to be a struggle, here's an article with some static pictures of the ads - and more interestingly with discussion of their ridiculously low user engagement rates.


I don't want to hijack or anything, but just want to also link to a project I did that also looked at these ads and lets you browse/categorize them interactively: https://qunc.co/russia_facebook_project/

Way better UI.

Does this work for anyone? Finding it pretty incomprehensible. Tried searching for 'hillary', top result is "Community of people who support our brave Police Officers. Back The Badge" ?

In one of my old jobs, we used to test and run a lot of different news headlines or email titles with different messaging. We tracked and measured as much as we could.

The depth and breath of these ads almost feels like this might have as much been a research project as much as a process to impact the US elections or to create discontent among the voters.

I wish there was more info or better clustering on other filters on these ads like locations, age, etc. It would tell us how they were approaching this.

This strikes me as more noise to add to the cacophony of nonsense that most Americans experience online. Please someone explain to me why these blurbs are somehow more signal than background noise.

It's really hard to see how these ads work without seeing which pages they link to.

I live in a MA which is a solid blue state, I’m also not in a bubble and know many people who voted for Trump.

Not a single person voted for him because of ads. Not TV ads, not print ads, not radio ads, not internet ads, not beach banners towed behind a Cessna.

I know it’s not a popular narrative, but no one was “fooled” into voting for Trump. They knew what they were voting for. Most of those people liked his anti-PC rhetoric. Which is why doubling down on PC is a bad strategy for Dems.

Agreed. I don't really care about Trump, but I voted third party again Clinton. However... doubling down on uberPC, calling people Nazis, saying "it's ok to be white" is white-supremacist talk, every day a new scandal... It's like these people are trying to get him re-elected.

The Media absolutely refuses to show this aspect of the meddling. That it was playing all-sides to encourage the same end result.

and Fakeblock is real.

If they bought ads to slant an election what does this say about the people falling for it?

Also, this is just digital propaganda. The US gov. and media outlets do it too.

if someone shoots you what does that say about your ability to avoid danger and dodge bullets?

If it was under circumstances in which a typical person ought to have been able to avoid being shot, it would say a lot (not that that justifies the action of the shooter).

So I'm confused. The media keeps repeating "Russia/Putin/The Kremlin interfered with/meddled with/hacked the 2016 election" (and has for about two full years now), but even though I feel like I've followed all this more closely than most Americans, the narrative is quite muddy and I don't understand what it is I'm supposed to believe.

First, I thought "the Russians" supposedly "hacked" Hillary Clinton's private email server. Or was it Podesta's email account? No, it was neither of those, Russia actually "compromised" some voting machines, maybe? Wait, wasn't there a series of stories, all from that same time period, about how "Russian hackers" managed to "break into but not quite gain control of" an Ameriacn hydroelectric dam, or something? Or perhaps none of that was true and maybe some "Russians" (the government? or not? who knows!) bought a bunch of Facebook ads--all far more innocuous than any of the rhetoric being spewed by Americans during the 2016 election season--for $10,000, and that is supposed to, uhm... have significantly swayed peoples' opinions such that they voted Trump into office? (Because if there's one thing I saw during 2016, it was vehemently anti-Trump people do a full 180 on their opinions! /s)

Until somebody does some actual reporting and breaks down the whole "Russia hacking/meddling with the election/our democracy" narrative in a way that not only I can understand, but the average American voter can understand, I see little choice but to believe that the entire thing is a confluence of several media-spun narratives that were repeated to us over and over until it was "common knowledge" that "Russia hacked the election" (whatever that means?) and/or "Russia meddled with our democracy" (whatever THAT means??).

Many of the accusations I see flying around social media and news sources sound incredibly dire, and something I should be freaking out about (not that anyone would have any ulterior motive to get myself and the rest of the American electorate to freak out about political matters, of course!)-- if that's the case, how is this information not yet out there in a clear, easily-understandable format for all to see?

If anyone wants to break down their understanding of the situation for me--WITHOUT consulting any sources, just your own current internal understanding of the situation is--I'd be grateful, because this whole thing seems to be one of the least-clear political issues in recent memory, and it seems to me that certain political and media forces are just trying to scare everyone with vague, often contradictory claims that intentionally muddy the real underlying issues at play.

lagadu 7 months ago [flagged]

I find the irony in so many Americans being outraged at a foreign state influencing another state's elections to be deliciously intoxicating.

Then enjoy, but please don't post about it.


I think it’s mostly redirecting dissatisfaction. Dems waaay underperformed and need to find a scapegoat rather than look internally and see why people switched.

But no, they rather blame others, be they foreign or even within the party: right now the Dems can’t decide if they are 1980s Dems or 1920s Workers Partiers.

> Dems waaay underperformed and need to find a scapegoat rather than look internally and see why people switched.

Switching was (as always) much less significant than turnout.

And the previously absolutely dominant neoliberal faction of the Democratic Party hasn't made a lot of substantive (and even more symbolic) concessions to the anti-establishment progressive faction of the party because of a sudden outburst of generosity.

Just because Democrats (and plenty of Republicans, though mostly it's only the ones not currently in elective office, or on their way out, that talk strongly about it) notice and are outraged about foreign interference doesn't mean that they aren't aware of and actively seeking to address other issues that hurt them in 2016. There's nothing stopping them from doing both.

> why people switched.

If I remember correctly, it wasn't so much that many people switched parties, but that typical Democrat voter turnout was low, reflecting some amount of disillusionment.

Also, what you say about the Democrats' identity crisis seems to mirror what's been happening with Labour (the left party) in the UK.

>reflecting some amount of disillusionment

Disillusionment through propaganda and well-timed leaks of stolen documents by a foreign, hostile power.

Does the source of the leaks matter? Does it matter that it was Wikileaks, AccessHollywood, Guccifer? Either something is true or it isn’t.

Absolutely the source matters as well as the contents.

You could ask yourself why the Russians penetrated the RNC but decided not to release any dirt. Perhaps you could ask yourself if this has any bearing on Trump's Russia stance? Could he be unable to admit meddling for fear of undermining his very legitimacy? As a result of this is the head of state feuding with the unanimous conclusion of his (+allies) intelligence agencies good for anyone? Who would that be?

This is why the source matters. Because things are always leaked with intent, and by missing that intent and being distracted by shiny talking points you're missing the whole story. Both matter, equally.

So let’s say (presume) Russia has goods on Trump, and we all know they had at least some goods on Hillary. I think then it would be fair to presume they could get the goods on anyone. If that’s the case, how can anyone do anything against this kind of adversary without someone saying “Ha, you’re taking/not taking an action because Russia is in your pocket!” Or whatever.

> So let’s say (presume) Russia has goods on Trump, and we all know they had at least some goods on Hillary

Why do we have to "presume" they do about Trump and "know" they had some goods on Hillary?

Rather than try and understand why Midwestern states such as Ohio flipped heavily Republican it seems like the plan is to call them idiots and bigots. It seems like some introspection and message focus is needed. The name calling path isn't working

It's almost as though some governments have been determined through economic and military strength to be more significant and powerful than others perhaps?

Whataboutism doesn't change the facts at hand, do they? A hostile foreign state orchestrated an intelligence operation to elect a specific person to further their own geopolitical goals. Every single person in this country should be alarmed by this.

Who gets to decide which state is hostile? We should be friends with Russia, not blaming them for all of our woes.

The American intelligence community.

And also anybody that has been paying attention to the situation in Ukraine and Syria.

> Subway SquarePants

Lots of techbros posting here missing the point. If you can't make sense of these groups and these ad buys, you're not familiar with Foundations of Geopolitics, which is assigned as a textbook in Russian military academies and was very well received there. The point of all of it is to encourage separation and discord along racial, ethnic, and political lines, and generally disrupt the American political process and international clout. Read a bit on that with some brief summaries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundations_of_Geopolitics

>In the United States: Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke "Afro-American racists". Russia should "introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics".

They've had resounding success with this strategy thus far.

I don't see how calling people that disagree with you 'techbros' qualifies as either 'discussing in good faith' nor meeting the standards of hackernews.

Sure, sorry if that offended you, I'll refrain from using that here in the future. It's a shorthand for the people commenting here not adding anything to the discussion and projecting one aspect that I associate with the oft-derided "tech libertarian" culture - that is, that nothing every really happens, coupled with an unwillingness to dig deeper to find a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

If you think the ~15 other posts here saying "I don't get it, these aren't election meddling" are adding more to the conversation than my comment because you were offended at the word, then I think perhaps you should continue reading the rest of it. Psyops is real, Russia does it, the US does it, and sowing dissent and funding extremist political groups in our country is a known part of Russia's global political strategy.

Another scary line in that wiki is:

> The book emphasizes that Russia must spread Anti-Americanism everywhere: "the main 'scapegoat' will be precisely the U.S."

Whether Putin has no influence over Trump, total control or anywhere in between - his actions and rhetoric during the campaign guaranteed this outcome if he were elected.

It's a very nice looking tool, but hijacking scrolling is always a bad call.

With my small touchpad on my laptop, I was unable to even get past the first entry. Closed the tab instantly after that.

I'm sure the info was enlightening, but totally unreadable to me.

I'm guessing they optimized for mobile and forgot that desktop is still a thing. Works pretty decently on Firefox on my Android phone. I usually prefer text documents to "apps" that hijack scrolling but this one seemed usable enough for me (apart from search which is difficult to get to and fails to fetch any results).

In the running for worst presentation ever. Most of this doesn’t seem to even be rendering on Chrome/iOS and the parts that do render disappear as soon as I get them where I want them on the screen.

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