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Report: Russian-bought Facebook ads targeted Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Some Facebook ads bought by Russian groups during the 2016 presidential campaign were targeted at the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin, according to a CNN report citing anonymous sources.

Some Facebook ads bought by Russian groups during the 2016 presidential campaign were targeted at the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin, according to a CNN report citing anonymous sources.

The report did not specify when the ads appeared in Michigan and Wisconsin, but said some ads contained anti-Muslim messages and were aimed at demographic groups in certain areas of the states, which were key to President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.

Trump narrowly won Michigan last November by 10,703 votes. He is the first Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to carry the Great Lakes State, where he outperformed historical averages for a Republican in rural communities.

Twelve counties that backed Obama in 2012 switched to Trump in 2016, including Macomb, Monroe, Saginaw, Bay and Eaton counties.

Trump also won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point, or more than 22,700 votes.

Some of the ads were targeted at reaching voters who might have been susceptible to anti-Muslim messaging, suggesting Muslims were a threat to the American way of life, sources told CNN.

“We have to continue to aggressively investigate this. We know the Russians were involved in elections in our country, and that is simply unacceptable,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Wednesday.

“This is a very serious issue that goes to the core of our democracy, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

Facebook said Monday it had provided the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee with 3,000 ads linked to a Russian ad agency. The social media giant had already provided the ads to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Facebook’s Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan has said the 3,000 ads, purchased by a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, ran between 2015 and 2017 and that “many appear to amplify racial and social divisions.”

The company estimates that 10 million people in the United States saw the ads, with 44 percent seen before the Nov. 8 election and 56 percent seen after the election.

The company says it might still uncover more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts.

Both Mueller and congressional investigators are looking into whether the Russian agency got help in their targeting efforts from Trump campaign associates. Trump and White House aides have denied any collusion with Russia.

Trump last month on Twitter called the claims of Russian election meddling in the election a “hoax,” saying the media had “greatest influence” on the 2016 campaign.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the contents of the Russian-linked ads should be made public.

“The American people deserve to see the ways that the Russian intelligence services manipulated and took advantage of online platforms to stoke and amplify social and political tensions,” Schiff wrote in a Facebook post.

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday his panel will not release the content of the ads, per committee policy.

“It’s not a practice we’re going to get into,” Burr said. “Clearly, if any of the social media platforms want to do that, we’re fine with them doing that.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised to strengthen the company’s review of political ads and make political advertising more transparent, while continuing an investigation into what happened on Facebook during the presidential election.

“We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools,” Zuckerberg said last month.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday he was concerned at first that social media platform companies were not taking seriously enough the use of fake accounts to target voters.

“I believe they are recognizing that threat now,” Warner said.

Keith Laing contributed

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