Vox: Nobody Knows Who Was Behind Half of the Divisive Ads on Facebook Ahead of the 2016 Election


Evidence continues to trickle out about how Russians and potentially other bad actors used Facebook to spread disinformation during the 2016 campaign. The latest piece of information: a new study that found that more than half of the sponsors of Facebook ads that featured divisive political messages ahead of the 2016 election were from “suspicious” groups with little or no paper trail to identify them.


Young Mie Kim, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin Madison and the study’s lead author, and a team of researchers analyzed 5 million paid ads shown to a group of 9,519 individuals who model the US voting-age population in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, from September 28 to November 8, 2016.


The study, released in conjunction with watchdog groups Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center, compares political and issue ads registered with the FEC to ads run by groups that didn’t file with the FEC — suspicious groups, Russian groups, and activist and other dark money groups that didn’t file. They found that the unregistered ads were disproportionately targeted at battleground states, including those that ultimately swung the election to Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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