Talk about a data dump.
On Thursday, the House Democrats of the Judiciary Committee released a trove of Facebook ads that the Internet Research Agency — implicated as the digital organization Russia utilized to promote propaganda and fake news on the internet — published to “sow discord” in America. And the document cache is… enormous.
The ads posted between April 2015 and August 2017 amount about 8.8GB of data. That may not sound like a lot in 2018, where smartphones routinely have as much as 256GB of storage, but the documents are all simple PDFs. It takes a lot of PDFs of ads — 3,519, to be precise — to take up that much space.
The PDF documents contain images of the ads as well as the ad’s attending metadata. That data includes the body and date of the ad, but also who the IRA targeted the ad to, how much it spent on the ad, and the number of people each ad reached.
Facebook voluntarily handed over the trove of ads to Congress in September 2017. But that was only after special counsel Robert Mueller III obtained a search warrant for the FBI’s investigation.
Congress revealed some of the ads during House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian election meddling in November 2017, which showed that the ads specifically used issues like gun control and race to inflame Americans on both sides of the aisle.
Facebook also announced around the same time it had received over $100,000 from ads placed by Russia-linked accounts.
Congress now puts the number of Americans who saw Russia’s “divisive” Facebook ads at 11.4 million. Additionally, the IRA created 470 Facebook pages, which produced over 80,000 pieces of organic content, seen by more than 126 million Americans.
The ads themselves and the ways they were deployed are infuriating. But the sheer volume gives an impression of just how pervasive this “hidden” presence was in our online lives.