Op-Ed: Facebook has a tool to dig up what Russian ads you followed

Posted Dec 27, 2017 by Ken Hanly
In November, Facebook announced that it would create a tool that would allow users to see if they followed pages or accounts that were linked to Russian-backed groups notably the Internet Research Agency.
Russia spent $50 000 on Facebook ads during the US election campaign compared to the whopping $81 mi...
Russia spent $50,000 on Facebook ads during the US election campaign compared to the whopping $81 million that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent on their campaigns
The dig up the Russia propaganda Facebook tool
The tool can be found at Facebook's Help Center. It will show you a list of the various pages you follow that are linked to the Kremlin-backed group, the Internet Research Agency.
You can even find out when you liked and followed items. You can also log in with your Instagram account. But the tool is not that intelligent or good at collecting information. It needs an injection of artificial intelligence (AI). It will not tell you if your shared or even saw content on those pages. Maybe it just considers that information as classified and only to be shared with authorized spies. There are privacy concerns about revealing this information to you.
The tool covers the period from January 2015 to August 2017, a period much before and much after the election.
Probably you are out of luck in finding out about what Russian propaganda you watch if you live outside the United States. I tried to look the tool up but found it is not available in Canada.
The Russian-backed Facebook ads
At first , Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook dismissed the very idea that his company could have influenced the 2016 presidential elections. However, Facebook later admitted that Russian-backed organizations placed ads on Facebook and upwards of 10 million people saw them.
Facebook said that the ads were part of a broad effort to "sow division and mistrust" before and after the 2016 election. They ostensibly supported US political causes across the political spectrum. Facebook has said that it is taking more steps to stop ads from any "inauthentic operation" that includes vetting the groups behind ads.
Many of the ads were shown long before and after the election
Facebook shared some 3,000 ads in total with Congress with 44 percent of them being displayed before the 2016 election and 56 percent after. Facebook said it would hire 1,000 more moderators to review future ad placements. Approximately a quarter of the ads were not shown at all because they were regarded as targeted at too specific a group.
The nature of the ads
Elliot Schrage, Facebook's policy VP wrote: “Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights. A number of them appear to encourage people to follow Pages on these issues.”
Facebook said that many of the ads would not have violated Facebook terms of service. The issue with the ads was that viewers were misled about who was promoting them. Schrage said that the ads could have stayed on Facebook if they had been placed by individuals who had properly identified themselves.
The Internet Research Agency
A Washington Post article reports: A Facebook official said “there is evidence that some of the accounts are linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg, referred to as the Internet Research Agency, though we have no way to independently confirm.” The official declined to release any of the ads it traced to Russian companies or entities. The lack of confirmation seems no longer to be even mentioned.
Wikipedia describes the Internet Research Agency as follows: "The Internet Research Agency (IRA), also known as Glavset[2] and known in Russian Internet slang as the Trolls from Olgino or kremlebots, is a Russian company, based in Saint Petersburg, that engages in online influence operations on behalf of the Russian government. The agency has employed fake accounts registered on major social networks, discussion boards, online newspaper sites, and video hosting services in order to promote the Kremlin's interests in domestic policy, Ukraine, and the Middle East, as well as attempting to influence the 2016 United States presidential election. More than 1000 paid bloggers and commenters reportedly worked only in a single building of the Agency in 2015."
The company was founded back in 2013. The US ads seemed to be part of a general campaign to concentrate upon divisive issues in the US and no doubt to expose failings in the US system. The ads were run long after the election campaign was over and Trump had won. Only a few of the ads even mention actual political candidates.
The company's main emphasis at present appears to be directed at the Russian populace with criticism of Alexei Navalny a potential opponent of Putin for president as well as his sponsors and any opposition to the government.
This criticism is accompanied by praise for government policies and of president Putin.
On the foreign front, the Agency criticizes Ukrainian policy and much of the foreign policy of the US.
The Internet Research Agency appears to be a front used to promote Russian interests through propaganda. No doubt the rise of social media such as Facebook and Twitter has created a new outlet for their skills. It remains to be seen whether there was any collusion between the Trump administration and the group or even if the group was all that interested in advancing the cause of Trump although it would seem clear that Trump was regarded as the preferable winner by Russia. Trump campaigned on improving relations with Russia.
Trump has never really been able to improve relations with Russia. Anti-Russian views appear to be increasing in the US, and under Trump relations with Russia are becoming quite frosty.