The politically divisive Facebook ads bought during the 2016 campaign by the Russia-connected “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency were purchased through the social media network’s self-service ad manager platform.
These ads focused on topics like LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights, according to Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos, and sources told CNN at least one referenced Black Lives Matter and targeted audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore.
This is how easy it is today to buy ads on the platform and target specific groups of people.
A landing page about advertising on Facebook touts it as a way to “find people easily,” “get their attention” and “see the results,” which sounds pretty benign if you’re thinking about small businesses targeting customers who’d be most interested in their products – but utterly terrifying if you’re thinking of a foreign power seeking to sow political discord in a rival country.
Facebook first asks users for their marketing objectives for their ads, either awareness, consideration or conversion. I clicked “conversion” and made a campaign to promote subscriptions to the COVER/LINE newsletter I co-write. You can then determine what audience you want to reach by geography, age and gender. I selected men and women ages 18 to 34 who live in Washington and speak English.
Users can then select more detailed targeting. You can select based on generation, household composition and interests, all prefaced on pages people like and information they’ve given Facebook and Instagram about themselves. I selected “young & hip” millennials interested in “trendy fashion.”
But wait, there’