For better or worse, social media platforms played a major role in the 2016 presidential election. This week, representatives from Twitter, Facebook, and Google are set to testify on Capitol Hill over potential Russian interference in that election’s outcome. And yesterday, CNN reported a major bombshell on that front from Facebook.
In a written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Facebook says that over 126 million people were potentially exposed to fake content — over half of the US’s eligible voting population.
The content was created by a Russian government-backed “troll farm” known as Internet Research Agency and shared between 2015 and 2017, says Facebook’s lead counsel, Colin Stretch, who estimates that 29 million people were served content directly from the IRA (or “Trolls from Olgino” as they are sometimes called online), which would have spread out to the 126 million people cited in the testimony.
Stretch and Facebook emphasize that the 126 million reach wouldn’t have necessarily hit every single eligible voter in the country. Furthermore, those who had been exposed to the fraudulent content might not have even *read* it. Facebook further clarified that a reach of 126 million is barely a drop in the bucket for the site’s content.
“This equals about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content,” Stretch writes. “Put another way, if each of these posts were a commercial on television, you’d have to watch more than 600 hours of television to see something from the IRA.”
CNN also obtained some of the testimony prepared for the hearing from other social media sites like Twitter and Google. In Twitter’s testimony, the bird found that 2,752 accounts that were linked to the IRA. Those accounts posted a total of 131,000 tweets in the period ranging from September 1, 2016 to November 15, 2016. Twitter will also testify that they found another 36,746 accounts connected to Russia — but not the Trolls from Olgino specifically — that created 1.4 million tweets which together received 288 million impressions on the site.
Besides the accounts posting fake content, Facebook’s lawyer Stretch is most troubled by purchased advertising by the IRA, designed specifically to draw people to IRA-owned content pages with posts used to divide US citizens on issues of race, sexuality and more.
“Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,” the testimony states. “A number of the ads encourage people to follow Pages on these issues, which in turn produced posts on similarly charged subjects.”
With Google also revealing that Russian operatives spent close to $5,000 on search and display ads and a further $53,000 on general Google ads, this may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to international organizations trying to undermine our political process by infiltrating social media.
With the ongoing testimony happening throughout the week, Russian-purchased Facebook ads may be released before Friday, and may give users a better idea if they were exposed to (actual) fake news over the last few years while sharing memes and news stories with their friends and families.
Do you think you were exposed to Russian-created fake content on Facebook? Tell us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)