Ads that Russian operatives purchased on Facebook during last year's presidential election actively promoted then-Republican candidate Donald Trump's anti-immigration campaign and other conservative causes, U.S. media have reported.
Most of the ads were deleted by Facebook, which said last week that it had suspended accounts it found were linked to Russian organizations that were advertising on political issues such as immigration and LGBT matters during the campaign.
But in a September 9 article, The Daily Beast said it retrieved some of the ads placed by what it cited Russian news outlet RBC as saying was a "notorious St. Petersburg troll factory" that was posing as a Facebook community called SecuredBorders, and found they actively promoted Trump and his platform while mocking and denouncing Trump's liberal opponents.*
One of the ads cited by The Daily Beast promoted Trump's repeated claim that over 5 million illegal migrants may have voted during the 2008 election, and called on Facebook readers to "like" the ad if they agreed such illegal voting was unacceptable.
Another ad The Daily Beast said it retrieved asked readers to "like if you agree" with Trump's decision, once he won the presidency, to end the long tradition of celebrating the end of the Muslim holiday Ramadan at the White House.
Other ads promoted Trump's signature proposal to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and depicted illegal immigrants from Latin America as rapists and criminals -- echoing statements made by Trump during his campaign for the White House.
Reuters reported on September 12 that one SecuredBorders advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016, three months before the November election, and around 48 people on Facebook expressed an interest in attending, with four saying they went, according to a copy of the event page archived by Google's search engine.
In light of the discovery of the ads actively promoting Trump causes, the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington nonprofit group that advocates for more transparency in elections, said on September 12 that it sent a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to publicly release the content of the alleged Russia-linked political ads.
"Releasing those advertisements could allow the country to better understand the nature and extent of foreign interference with our democracy," the center's president, Trevor Potter, wrote.
Facebook said in response to the letter, "Federal law and ongoing investigations limit what we can share publicly," Reuters reported.
The company said it has turned over information about the ads to the Justice Department and congressional committees that are investigating Russia's alleged interference in the election.
With reporting by Reuters and The Daily Beast
CORRECTION: This article has been amended to correct the media citation to The Daily Beast instead of BuzzFeed and to clarify the sourcing of the reference to a Russian "troll factory."