U.S. Congress released on Wednesday more than 3,000 Facebook ads that Russian operatives apparently purchased or posted during the 2016 presidential campaign season, many of them inflammatory in nature designed to pit Americans against each other on a variety of social issues.
The Washington Post reported that the ads were designed to promote various messages and opposing viewpoints, and produced fake information about rallies with the apparent intent to push Americans toward physical conflict.
One of the fake groups for instance was called "Heart of Texas," which promoted a "Stop the Islamization of Texas" rally for May in Houston, while another fake group called "United Muslims of America" promoted the counter "Save Islamic Knowledge" rally at the same place and time.
Other posts demonized Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by portraying her as Satan, in what appears to be a mixed martial arts fight with Jesus Christ, with the caption reading "'Like' if you want Jesus to win.'"
Another similar post by the "Army of Jesus" group, which amassed a following of over 217,000 people, showed Satan arm-wrestling Christ, with the former declaring "If I win Clinton wins!" and the latter replying, "Not if I can help it!"
Other fake pages promoted Democratic candidates, such as Vermont junior senator Bernie Sanders. A group called "LGBT United" even featured a coloring book in support of Sanders, depicting him as a muscular hero.
The ads also sought to inflame American sensitivities on topics such as gun rights, illegal immigration, economic hardships and racial issues, explicitly calling on people to attend political rallies on a number of occasions.
"The strategy is to take a crack in our society and turn it into a chasm," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes the headquarters for Facebook, Google and Twitter, added that the revelations herald "cataclysmic change."
"What we're talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we're talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare," Feinstein said.
"What we're talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away, gentlemen. And this is a very big deal."
Thousands of ads were apparently bought by 470 accounts, stemming from a "Russian troll farm in St. Petersburg."
The Russian-designed posts reached up to 126 U.S. million residents.
Although the accounts in question have now all been shut down, Facebook, Twitter, and Google officials were called to testify before Congress.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a letter to investors that his company will double it's 10,000 strong force of employees and contractors working on safety and security issues by the end of 2018.
"We're investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability," Zuckerberg wrote. "Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits."
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, insisted that Congress' efforts are not aimed at re-litigating the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"This isn't about who won or lost. This is about national security. This is about corporate responsibility. And this is about the deliberate and multifaceted manipulation of the American people by agents of a hostile foreign power," Burr said.
President Donald Trump meanwhile continues denying Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign helped him defeat Clinton, even as former campaign manager Paul Manafort surrendered to federal authorities late last month amid the ongoing probe.
This article was originally published in The Christian Post.