Russians targeted La. Facebook users about Sterling shooting, Confederate monuments

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NEW ORLEANS (WWL-TV)- Facebook ads linked to Russian businesses targeted users in Louisiana immediately following the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge and removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, apparently to sow outrage among locals before the U.S. elections.

Thursday, Democrats in the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released thousands of Facebook ads reportedly purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a business federal prosecutors identified earlier this year as having Russian ties.

Prosecutors argue that the Internet Research Agency and 13 other individuals waged “information warfare against the United States” to spread distrust in the political system prior to the 2016 U.S. elections.

After releasing the ads, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) said Russia sought to weaponize social media platforms to “drive a wedge between Americans.”

“They did this by creating fake accounts, pages and communities to push divisive online content and videos and to mobilize real Americans, unwittingly, to sign petitions and join rallies and protests,” Schiff said in a statement about the release of the ads.

Hours after a Baton Rouge police officer killed Alton Sterling on July 5, 2016, the Internet Research Agency allegedly created several Facebook ads using the page Don’t Shoot Us that claimed police “executed” Sterling.

“Can you believe they did it again?! Cops just executed him! It’s one of the worst cases of police brutality,” one post said, linking to a third-party website. The post, which was purchased with Russian currency, was shown in 6,243 Facebook timelines and was clicked 1,280 times. That ad was targeted to users across the United States.

A second post by the page Don’t Shoot Us, created hours after the first ad, promoted a rally or protest outside the Baton Rouge Police Department’s headquarters four days after Sterling was killed.

Screenshots of the ad show 308 people responded that they were interested in the event and 111 people marked that they planned to attend.

Documents show that the post, specifically targeted to Louisiana residents, reached 26,837 Facebook timelines and was clicked 2,125 times. The ad was public from July 6, 2016, to July 9, 2016.

Nearly a year after the two posts on the Sterling shooting, documents show the Internet Research Agency continued to use controversial issues in Louisiana to stoke national outrage.

On April 28, 2017, at the height of the debate about the future of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans, the group created a national ad that celebrated the removal of the Battle of Liberty Place monument.

“Finally New Orleans will be free from racist history,” the ad read, with an image of cranes removing the monument.

Once again, the ad was purchased with Russian currency; it appeared in 551 Facebook timelines. The ad, created through a different Facebook page called BM (short for Black Matters), links to a website with the same name that compiled national news articles.

The website is still online but has not been updated since September 2017.

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