U.S. lawmakers have released a collection of politically-charged Facebook advertisements that were apparently bought by Russian operatives ahead of the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to pit Americans against each other.
Last month, Facebook turned over roughly 3,000 advertisements that promoted various messages and opposing viewpoints to congressional investigators. Some of the pages reportedly contained fake information about rallies for opposite sides of divisive issues, including gun rights, immigration, religion and race.
One Facebook group called the "Heart of Texas" had promoted a "Stop the Islamization of Texas" rally in Houston in May, while another group calling itself "United Muslims of America" promoted the "Save Islamic Knowledge" at the same place and time.
Some of the advertisements were directed against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, with one group portraying her as Satan, in what appears to be a mixed martial arts fight with Jesus Christ.
The group, called "Army of Jesus," also featured an advertisement depicting Satan in an arm-wrestling match with Christ. The post came with the caption, "Satan: 'If I Win Clinton Wins!' Jesus: 'Not If I Can Help It!"
The advertisements, which were apparently bought by 470 accounts that originated from a "Russian troll farm in St. Petersburg," were presented at a U.S. House Intelligence Committee hearing, where lawyers from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google testified about Russian influence on their platforms.
Charisma News reported that Facebook came under the most scrutiny from lawmakers, who raised their concerns about the company's role in targeted marketing.
The advertisements have reportedly reached up to 126 million U.S. residents, and an additional four million may have been exposed to such material on Instagram before October 2016, according to Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said that tech companies need to do more to monitor foreign government abuse on their platforms. "In the past election, you failed," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who is normally considered to be supportive of the companies in Silicon Valley.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russia had interfered in the campaign, but Moscow has denied any attempts to sway the 2016 election.
President Donald Trump had also denied any collusion with the Russian government during the campaign, even as former campaign manager Paul Manafort turned himself over to federal authorities late last month in connection with the investigation on Russian meddling.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had noted that the committee hearing was not intended at re-litigating the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"This isn't about who won or lost. This is about national security. This is about corporate responsibility. And this is about the deliberate and multifaceted manipulation of the American people by agents of a hostile foreign power," he said.
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