Black Lives Matter Facebook ad targeting Baltimore, Ferguson linked to Russia

At least one of the Facebook advertisements bought by the Russians during last year’s presidential campaign was targeted at voters in Baltimore and made reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, a source familiar with the ad said Wednesday.

The ad — also aimed at users in Ferguson, Mo. — followed the 2015 rioting sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. The ad appeared on the social media network sometime in late 2015 or early 2016.

Facebook, under increased scrutiny for hosting hundreds of Russian-linked accounts, announced this month that it would turn over thousands of ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin. Federal officials are investigating whether those ads were part of a broader effort to influence the 2016 election.

The ad was first reported by CNN, and its existence was confirmed by The Baltimore Sun. The Sun did not review the ad. The cable news network, citing unnamed sources, said the ad could be viewed as supporting Black Lives Matter but also potentially as portraying the group as threatening to some in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. The company issued a statement earlier this month saying that the majority of the ads did not focus on a specific candidate but rather “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

By targeting particular geographic audiences, the Russian company demonstrated sophistication with a tactic that has been used for years by U.S. political campaigns.

Facebook’s ability to target ads has made it a powerful platform for advocacy groups and candidates.

On the other hand, while Baltimore’s suburbs can swing politically, Maryland as a whole is flyover country for presidential politics because of its reliable support for Democrats. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump campaigned in the state ahead of the primary, but focused resources elsewhere for the general election.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

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