Facebook on Monday revealed that the Russian-backed election ads aimed at creating differences between Americans during the Presidential election reached 126 million people (or about one-third of the U.S. population). Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet executives are expected to appear before congressional committees this week.
Russian-backed election ads – more details
In the testimony (obtained by The Verge) that would be presented before the committee, Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch said, “The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society.”
Stretch added that the foreign actors, who influenced the elections by releasing the ads through fake accounts, are an assault on democracy and violates all its values. Facebook stated that around 80,000 posts were displayed between June 2015 and August 2017 with most focusing on social and political messages such as race and gunfights.
Further, Twitter and Google in their prepared remarks (copies of which were obtained by The New York Times), say that the Russian agents published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos on YouTube. According to Twitter’s testimony, the election-related tweets were read by approximately 288 million users. Google said it discovered two accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, spending $4,700 on the platform during the 2016 election time period. Additionally, 18 YouTube Channels were also linked to the campaign run by Russia.
The latest piece of information on Russian-backed election ads is surprising, revealing how Russia can use American technology to create a divide in U.S. society. The United States, however, is in no mood to take it lightly. The investigation into the matter has only intensified leading to the indictment of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chief, and others on Monday, notes The New York Times.
Efforts to limit such actions
To limit such instances, a bill was presented earlier this month, requiring social media companies to maintain public files of election ads and require companies to “make reasonable efforts” to ensure that the advertisements are not bought by foreign individuals to create discord between Americans.
Social media companies are also making efforts to make sure that what happened in the 2016 Presidential election is not repeated. On Monday, Google stated that apart from verifying the accounts, it would create a public database of elections ads, giving all the details related to the purchase.
Facebook, which previously said only 10 million people saw the Russian ads, has also talked of introducing new tools for identifying political ad buyers, and make that information available for public inspection. However, many doubt if Facebook will be able to block unfair use because its technology is designed to be simple in use, notes NPR.
Facebook is under massive political pressure to tighten the filtering, but according to Marty Weintraub, a marketing executive with the firm Aimclear, financial pressure facing the company is greater. “It’s their revenue they’re dealing with, so it’s not like they made a team of people from the NSA and said: lock this puppy down,” Weintraub says, according to NPR.