126 million US Facebook users may have seen Russia-banked posts
The scale and potential reach of political content allegedly uploaded onto Facebook by Russia-backed operatives has been revealed.
The social media giant has estimated that around 80,000 posts were produced and uploaded before and after the divisive 2016 US presidential election that saw Donald Trump narrowly beat Hilary Clinton.
This means that the content, which focused on contentious social and political issues, could have been seen by as many as 126 million US Facebook users.
The revelation came before a Senate hearing where Facebook, Google and Twitter will be asked to detail their estimates on Russia’s potential use of their sites to try and influence the outcome of the popular vote.
The Russian government has repeatedly denied all allegations that it sanctioned the use of social media as a way to try and sway US citizens.
The announcement came on the same day that Google released a statement saying that Russian YouTube users had uploaded over 1,000 political videos on 18 different channels. Twitter has also suspended 2,752 accounts it has tracked back to the Russian Internet research Agency.
The 80,000 Facebook posts were seen directly by 29 million American Facebook users. Facebook believes that these posts were created by a company with links to the Russian government. The posts were then pushed out to millions more people through likes, shares and comments.
A post counts as having ‘reached’ a user when it is shown on the Facebook News Feed, even though they may not actually end up reading it.
Hence the estimate that the content could have been seen by up to 126 million users, and the difficulty in trying to accurately determine how much influence it actually had on voters.
There are also problems with the fact that, according to Facebook’s own rules, many of the posts did not technically do anything wrong. In a blog post Facebook’s Elliot Schrage said that many of the deleted posts did not actually violate the company’s content policies. Rather, they were deleted due to inauthenticity because the posters had not stated their nationality.
The company has also deleted 170 Instagram accounts, which had posted an estimated 120,000 pieces of content.