Five Types of Facebook Memes Russia Used to Influence the 2016 US Election
A giant data dump from Congress revealed a ton of Russian memes, aimed at Americans around the presidential election.
On Thursday, Congress released more than 3,000 advertisements that the Russia-based Internet Research Agency ran on Facebook and Instagram between 2015 and 2017. More than 11.4 million American users were exposed to the ads, according to the House Intelligence Committee.
In November, we saw a glimpse of what this data dump might contain: memes weaponized to stoke the racial, religious, and political tensions of the country around the 2016 presidential election. Now, all 3,393 of the ads, along with targeting data and social metrics, are publicly available for download.
Most of these Russian troll memes were not very advanced, lest we forget. They often pandered to stereotypes, from young, progressive millennials, to middle-aged conservatives, liberals, and seemingly everyone in between.
Facebook said in an announcement that the social giant is taking steps toward advertising and monitoring, including efforts to find and disable fake accounts and more transparency around who pays for ads.
Scrolling through the trove of ads and accompanying social media captions is like watching a Facebook feed from the time around the 2016 election and its immediate aftermath flash by in fast-forward. A lot of it looks like mindless shit your old high school friends posted all day during that time, or the frothing nationalistic imagery shared by some distant relative.
Many of the images and some of the memes deal with race, with messaging that snaps from “protect our police officers” to “cops are murderers.”
“These ads clearly show that the Russian government not only meddled in our election to sway the results in favor of Donald Trump,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, wrote in a press release after the ads were made public. “But that they did so by promoting anti-Black hate speech, creating fake Black Lives Matter Facebook accounts, and stoking fears about Muslims, immigrants, and queer people.”
Here are five types of memes represented in the data dump.
Black Lives Matter Memes
An account called Black Matters posted ads and memes that frequently targeted people in Baltimore, Ferguson, and St. Louis—places where police violence sparked protests in the years leading up to the 2016 election:
Generic Millennial Humor
One of the more generic accounts, called Memeopolis, posted internet millennial humor, with stock images accompanied by pithy jokes:
“Fuck Yeah America” Memes
Several accounts, such as Angry Eagle and Army of Jesus, promoted nationalistic ideas framed as patriotism:
Aimed at young people, accounts like LGBT United tried to garner followers that cared about gender issues and sexuality:
Memes for Robot Overlords?
Not all of the memes contained in the dump were perfectly executed to sound like they were written by a teen memelord. An account called Stop AI posted this very confusing advertisement, which appears to have been written by the Terminator (or possibly the intelligent machine from the Roko’s Basilisk thought experiment):
BONUS CATEGORY: Whomever This Is For
Memelords whose obsession with Pokémon Go interferes with their sex lives, I guess.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.