What we can learn from the 3,500 Russian Facebook ads meant to stir up U.S. politics

On Thursday, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a massive new trove of Russian government-funded Facebook political ads targeted at American voters. While we’d seen a cross section of the ads before through prior releases from the committee, the breadth of ideological manipulation is on full display across the more than 3,500 newly released ads — and that doesn’t even count still unreleased unpaid content that shared the same divisive aims.

After viewing the ads, which stretch from 2015 to late 2017, some clear trends emerged.

Russia focused on black Americans

Many, many of these ads targeted black Americans. From the fairly large sample of ads that we reviewed, black Americans were clearly of particular interest, likely in an effort to escalate latent racial tensions.

Many of these ads appeared as memorials for black Americans killed by police officers. Others simply intended to stir up black pride, like one featuring an Angela Davis quote. One ad posted by “Black Matters” was targeted at Ferguson, Missouri residents in June 2015 and only featured the lyrics to Tupac’s “California Love.” Around this time, many ads targeted black Facebook users in Baltimore and the St. Louis area.

Some Instagram ads targeted black voters interested in black power, Malcolm X, and the new Black Panther party using Facebook profile information. In the days leading up to November 8, 2016 other ads specifically targeted black Americans with anti-Clinton messaging.

Not all posts were divisive (though most were)

While most ads played into obvious ideological agendas, those posts were occasionally punctuated by more neutral content. The less controversial or call-to-action style posts were likely designed to buffer the politically divisive content, helping to build out and grow an account over time.

For accounts that grew over the course of multiple years, some “neutral” posts were likely useful for making them appear legitimate and build trust among followers. Some posts targeting LGBT users and other identity-based groups just shared positive messages specific to those communities.

Ads targeted media consumers and geographic areas

Some ads we came across targeted Buzzfeed readers, though they were inexplicably more meme-oriented and not political in nature. Others focused on Facebook users that liked the Huffington Post’s Black Voices section or Sean Hannity.

Many ads targeting black voters targeted major U.S. cities with large black populations (Baltimore and New Orleans, for example). Other geo-centric ads tapped into Texas pride and called on Texans to secede.

Conservatives were targeted on many issues

We already knew this from the ad previews, but the new collection of ads makes it clear that conservative Americans across a number of interest groups were regularly targeted. This targeting concentrated on stirring up patriotic and sometimes nationalist sentiment with anti-Clinton, gun rights, anti-immigrant and religious stances. Some custom-made accounts spoke directly to veterans and conservative Christians. Libertarians were also separately targeted.

Events rallied competing causes

Among the Russian-bought ads, event-based posts became fairly frequent in 2016. The day after the election, an event called for an anti-Trump rally in Union Square even as another ad called for Trump supporters to rally outside Trump tower. In another instance, the ads promoted both a pro-Beyoncé and anti-Beyoncé event in New York City.

Candidate ads were mostly pro-Trump, anti-Clinton

Consistent with the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s intentions during the 2016 U.S. election, among the candidates, posts slamming Hillary Clinton seemed to prevail. Pro-Trump ads were fairly common, though other ads stirred up anti-Trump sentiment too. Few ads seemed to oppose Bernie Sanders and some rallied support for Sanders even after Clinton had won the nomination. One ad in August 2016 from account Williams&Kalvin denounced both presidential candidates and potentially in an effort to discourage turnout among black voters. In this case and others, posts called for voters to ignore the election outright.

While efforts like the Honest Ads Act are mounting to combat foreign-paid social media influence in U.S. politics, the scope and variety of today’s House Intel release makes it clear that Americans would be well served to pause before engaging with provocative, partisan ideological content on social platforms — at least when it comes from unknown sources.

SongTrust has inked deals with over 150,000 songwriters for royalties management

The music industry is finally seeing some daylight after years of sales declines and revenue attrition. As industry organizations announce year-on-year growth, songwriters are turning to royalty management organizations like SongTrust in increasing numbers. In just under a year SongTrust added 50,000 songwriters, 5,000 publishers, and now represents 1 million copyrights. The company said that one-in-five new professional songwriters are using SongTrust’s platform.

Signs of the music industry’s comeback are everywhere, SongTrust noted. They’re visible in the 8.1 percent increase in global recorded music revenues; in the second straight year that the German publishing rights body, GEMA, topped 1 billion Euros in revenue; and in the record financial results recorded by the PRS for Music — an increase of 14.7 percent over 2016.

More good news is coming to songwriters and rights holders in the form of the Music Modernization Act that’s now making its way through Congress.

Technology is something that the music industry’s back end has sorely needed. Performers, producers and songwriters avail themselves of the latest technologies in the studios and stages around the world and are then reduced to Excel spreadsheets and outmoded tracking systems to follow their songs through various distribution channels. And digital technologies like sampling, and distribution platforms like Spotify and others have complicated the process even further.

There’s a whole range of tools that are coming to market to help professionalize the back end of the industry, so that artists can get paid their fair share.

Songtrust was born out of Downtown Music Publishing, a publishing and rights management firm that manages rights for artists, such as Frank Sinatra, One Direction and Santigold. 

Mexican mothers mark their day pining for missing children

CHILAPA DE ALVAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) – Three years ago, Julieta Guzman kissed her only son on the forehead as he headed over to his girlfriend’s house, just a few blocks away in the town of Chilapa, where drug gangs fighting over heroin production have plunged into a vortex of violence.

Spotify removes R. Kelly from playlists as part of new ‘hateful conduct’ policy

Spotify has a new policy that covers not just “hate content” but also “hateful conduct” outside the music itself. And at least two artists have already been culled from playlists as a result.

To be a clear, Spotify is making a distinction between hate content, which it says it will “remove … whenever we find it,” and music by artists who may have done morally or legally questionable things. Here’s how the company describes its approach in these situations:

We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

So Billboard has confirmed that starting today, listeners will no longer find songs by R. Kelly on Spotify’s playlists, whether they’re editorially curated or created algorithmically. (A number of women have accused Kelly of sexual abuse, though he has denied the allegations.) The publication also confirmed that rapper XXXTentacion had been removed from the high-profile Rap Caviar playlist.

In theory, this seems like a reasonable balance between not wanting to remove artists from the platform entirely and not wanting the apperance of tacitly endorsing reprehensible behavior. (Putting someone on a high-profile Spotify playlist really is a big deal, with hit-making power.)

But as others have pointed out, this could also put Spotify in the position of making a lot of tricky calls, since there are plenty of other musicians who have been accused of (or convicted of, or admitted to) some pretty bad stuff.

Spotify may find itself in a similar situation to YouTube, which also tried to crack down on objectionable content (and become more advertiser-friendly) by setting a higher bar for creator monetization. In theory, it was the right decision, but it also led to plenty of creator complaints and a bit of course correction.

Wall Street rallies and Apple approaches $1 trillion value

(Reuters) – Wall Street jumped on Thursday, and Apple inched closer to a $1 trillion stock market value, as tepid inflation data eased worries of faster U.S. interest rate hikes this year.

Trumps seeks ‘very meaningful’ summit in Singapore with North Korea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he had high hopes of “doing something very meaningful” to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions at a summit in Singapore next month, after Pyongyang smoothed the way for talks by freeing three American prisoners.