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The Russian-Bought Ads That Targeted LGBT Facebook Users

Russian Facebook ads

Two advertisements from Russian trolls looking to influence the 2016 presidential election seem to stoke division and sway voters from Hillary Clinton.

Lawmakers investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have released a number of Facebook ads purchased as part of the effort, including ones aimed squarely as LGBT voters.

Two Facebook ads released by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence were branded as coming from "LGBT United," connecting to a page no longer viewable on the social media service. One of the ads promoted a May 25 counterprotest to the Westboro Baptist Church, including a graphic that played off the hate group's notorious "God Hates Fags" slogan with the phrase "God H8s Bigots" plastered atop an image of a Westboro demonstration filtered with rainbow colors.


The ad included a caption describing a coming Westboro protest in Lawrence, Kan. Indeed, that day the church protested a high school graduation in the community that day, and a group called LGBT United Community announced a counterprotest on a local website. The Facebook ad had an ad spend of 3,136.68 rubles, and garnered 4.798 ad impressions and 240 ad clicks, according to metadata released by lawmakers.

The second advertisement promoted the sale of "Buff Bernie: A coloring book for Berniacs." The image here was of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who posed a more potent than expected challenge to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries last year. The image of a muscular, dabbing Sanders is colored in with a random rainbow palate. In one corner of the shot, you can see a transgender symbol and a ribbon with "LGBT United" written across it. This ad was among the least vitriolic released by the committee so far, and includes a posting saying the coloring book's author "wanted people to stop taking this whole thing too serious." Metadata shows the ad had 848 impressions and 54 clicks, and had an ad spend of 111.49 rubles.


Other ads included in the image dump include appeals to voters on the left and the right, including one appealing to anti-LGBT voters. One from the group "Heart of Texas" reaches out to voters "Ready to Secede" and shows an outline of the United States absent the state of Texas, containing a photograph of a rainbow flag montaged with a demonstrator promising "Islam will dominate the world." That one includes text about the media refusing to cover the crimes committed by "Killary Rotten Clinton." Images were partially redacted from the House release. This ad had an ad spend of 3,200 rubles and a considerable reach compared to the LGBT United ads, earning 16,168 ad impressions and 2,342 ad clicks.

Most of the ads appeal to voters with divisive messages, with the majority targeting Clinton's candidacy either from the left or right, whether highlighting Sanders's criticism of the Clinton Foundation or alleging Bill Clinton has an illegitimate black love child. The Westboro ad appears to serve no other purpose than stirring up resentment between LGBT people and far-rightwing groups, while the Sanders ad may have been an effort to sell the candidate to Clinton supporters.

There is one ad branded with the group "BM" that asks voters to "Stop Trump," though it's rather tame compared to one of a pro-Clinton Satan arm-wrestling with Jesus, with the post reading "though Donald Trump isn't a saint by any means, he's at least an honest man."

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