One-on-one with editor of site that uncovered series of Facebook - CBS46 News


One-on-one with editor of site that uncovered series of Facebook ads allegedly by Russian operatives

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

CBS46 special assignments reporter Mark Pettit investigates the Russian Facebook hacking scandal. He goes one-on-one with the editor of a startup news site here in Atlanta that uncovered a series of Facebook ads allegedly placed by Russian operatives.

With a few clicks on his computer, Seth Persily unleashed a worldwide exclusive. His Atlanta-based website, called Policulous -- a take on "politics of the ridiculous," -- unveiled a series of Facebook ads they say were paid for by Russian hackers.

There are 15 ads total to one obscure Facebook site in New Jersey, a horse farm called The Blue Crest Riding Center.

"And we got into it more and discovered that the owners of this farm were actually killed in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy," says Persily. "The account had been dormant for four years, and then right before the November 2016 election, the account came to life again."

Did it ever.

The ads started out simple, making fun of Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running mate, Tim Kane, and then turned sinister, attacking Clinton and her husband directly.

"After the election, the ads became significantly more violent, significantly more racist and significantly more anti-immigrant," says Persily.

Something else happened -- the Facebook ads started mimicking the president's own messages, especially related to Germany, France and Sweden. 

"Trump has made a number of comments about undocumented immigrants becoming violent in all three of those counties," says Persily. "What was amazing for us to find were the three counties targeted by this account."

When asked if these people knew what they were doing, Persily said, "They absolutely knew what they were doing. They were coordinated, they had money and they had a sizable team."

"Not only that, there was a lot of sophistication in the messaging and in the targeting," says Persily.

When asked who was being targeted, Persily says almost exclusively young white men. 

When asked what kind of money we are talking about, and what kind of money the Russians spend on Blue Crest Riding Center, Persily says, "We're talking about probably a few thousands dollars, between $2,000-4000."

CBS46 asked Persily if this happened similarly to sites across the country. 

"So yes," says Persily. "This happened 470, to 470 different accounts."

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