That $100,000 Russia Spent on Facebook Fake News Ads Could Have Reached 70 Million Americans


70,000 Votes in Three States Handed Trump the White House

Given that over $1 billion was spent by the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump presidential campaigns, $100,000 on Facebook ads sounds like a drop in the bucket, right? Not exactly. On Wednesday Facebook revealed to Congress and then to the American people that Russia had indeed, (we're assuming likely illegally,) spent $100,000 in divisive ads as part of its campaign to damage voters' faith in the U.S. election system and to get Donald Trump elected.

But according to The Daily Beast, a whopping 70 million Americans could have seen those "divisive social and political messages," focusing on same-sex marriage, gun control, racism, and immigration. And since only 70,000 or so votes across three key states handed the Electoral College to Trump, it certainly seems, despite Facebook's denials, that those fake news ads could have played a major role.

"Russian-funded covert propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million, according to analysis by an expert on the social-media giant's complex advertising systems. That means up to 28 percent of American adults were swept in by the campaign," The Daily Beast's Ben Collins, Kevin Poulsen, and Spencer Ackerman report.

One Facebook page, which has since been shut down, "spewed a steady stream of alt-right political memes and fake news, nearly always accompanied a gif or a video and a explicit or implicit call for users to engage with the post."

"This woman is a crook. A sociopath. A heartless, cold b*tch," reads one of the posts from election season, above a photoshopped image of Hillary Clinton standing for a mugshot. "We've had more than enough traitors and crooks in the White House already! Don't you agree?"

Clinton, or "Killary," as the page preferred to call her, was a frequent target of the page, while Donald Trump drew consistent praise before the election and since. Other posts railed against U.S. Muslims, who the page claimed falsely are busily indoctrinating American grade school students.

The Daily Beast spoke with Dennis Yu, the co-founder of BlitzMetrics, an ad agency that focuses on Facebook ads.  

Politically charged posts—especially salacious ones—draw high engagement, said Yu. "With certain topics it's kind of hard to lose. 'Hillary Clinton got caught hiding something!' Well, OK. I already believe she hides stuff." Yu said he suspects Russia maximized its impact with a basic strategy practiced by Facebook marketers: seed a new Facebook post with a tiny buy as low as $1 a day, then watch Facebook's ad console and see if the post catches fire. If it doesn't, write it off and start on the next post. But if people begin engaging with the post in a serious way, you go all in.

"It's a risk-free lottery," Yu said. "The minimum cost is $1 per day."

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