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Russia weaponized political advertising in 2016. That was just the beginning. | The Fact Checker

In 2012 and 2013, social media use skyrocketed. Facebook reached a billion users and went public. There were over a hundred billion Google searches per month. By 2014, both tech giants had acquired smaller companies ranging from advertising exchanges to services like YouTube and Instagram. The platforms were able to directly capitalize on the data consumers gave them in order to help companies target those same people with ads. Russia weaponized these capabilities by using digital tools to try to influence an election.Starting in 2014, a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency - or IRA - promoted propaganda on social media in the U.S. Jacob Shapiro, a professor at Princeton University, found that by 2016, the Russians had started 20 campaigns in 13 countries. And Russia didn’t just target individuals on social media. Russian military intelligence, often referred to as the GRU, tried to push propaganda into the larger media ecosystem through fake personas, think tanks and “alternative news.” The GRU also strategically leaked hacked information via WikiLeaks and direct messaging journalists at opportune moments of the 2016 campaign. Facebook estimated around 126 million people may have seen content from an IRA page. Twitter announced it identified 3814 IRA-controlled accounts and notified 1.4 million people they may have been in contact with one of them. Propaganda articles were published in at least 142 alternative media outlets. After 2016, the social media companies removed accounts that were run by foreign operatives, built partnerships with fact checkers to flag fake news and have instituted voluntary policies to label ads. While the tech companies have made efforts at transparency and blocking foreign interference, no new laws or regulations have been implemented to govern digital political advertising as a whole. Read more: Subscribe to The Washington Post on YouTube: Follow us: Twitter: Instagram: Facebook:

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