Technology

Did You “Like” Russian Propaganda On Facebook Without Realizing?

Social media firms are still dealing with fallout from the Russia-linked ads leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections, and the next step is notifying those who actually saw the ads. Today Facebook said it will create a portal that will let users see if they followed or liked any of the pages linked to Russian propaganda. However, some are criticizing the plan, noting that it comes up far short of informing every user who followed Russian propaganda on Facebook without knowing it.

russian propaganda on facebook
TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay

Telling users about Russian propaganda on Facebook

Facebook said the portal it will create soon will let users see which pages from the Internet Research Agency they followed or liked on Facebook or Instagram between January 2015 and August 2017. The social media firm plans to have the tool up and running before the end of this year. It will be accessible via the Facebook Help Center, the company said in its extremely brief blog post.

The Internet Research Agency is a Russia-based firm known for trying to influence public thought on behalf of the Russian government. The group created fake accounts to spread Russian propaganda on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, which is why Facebook is specifically targeting pages created by the firm.

Criticism of Facebook’s portal

About 150 million people saw Russian propaganda on Facebook, the social network told U.S. investigators previously, according to Business Insider, although reports from various outlets have this number varying from 120 million to 150 million. However, according to Recode, the disclosure portal will likely reach only a fraction of the number of people who saw the ads. The social media firm reportedly plans to allow only some users access to the portal.

The problem is that there are several different ways users could have seen Russian propaganda on Facebook. Some users would have seen it as a paid ad that didn’t seem to have any ties to the Kremlin, while others would have seen it as a post in their News Feeds. Some users directly engaged with the Russia-backed ads, while saw it because their friends engaged with it, which caused it to appear in their News Feeds.

Who will benefit from the portal… and who won’t

The main issue is that the portal will only help users who followed one of the Internet Research Agency’s pages or accounts directly on either Facebook or Instagram. It will not help those who might have seen Russian propaganda because it appeared in their News Feeds as a result of their friends “liking” it. Recode also states that users who saw any of the approximately 3,000 ads purchased by the organization before the 2016 elections won’t benefit from the portal either.

Facebook was very light on details in announcing the portal, and it did not say just how many users might be able to use it. Recode estimates this number to be in the millions.

According to Business Insider, there’s also another problem with the company’s so-called “transparency” around Russian propaganda. Users who do have access to the portal won’t know whether the Russian propaganda they engaged with on Facebook was a post that appeared in their News Feed or was shown to them as a paid ad. Facebook claims that technical limitations and privacy issues prevent it from being able to disclose this detail.

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