Facebook: Up to 126 million people saw Russian-planted posts
Facebook has identified 80,000 Russia-linked posts on its platform that sought to interfere in the 2016 election and were viewed by up to 126 million people, the company’s top lawyer will tell a Senate panel Tuesday.
The so-called organic posts were planted by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency during the period from January 2015 to August 2017, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch will say, according to a copy of his written testimony obtained by POLITICO.
The new information represents a much broader picture of Russian activity on the social network that has previously been disclosed. Facebook earlier this month shared with congressional investigators 3,000 online political ads linked to the same Internet Research Agency, and Stretch will tell lawmakers Tuesday those ads were seen by an estimated 11.4 million people. That makes the potential audience for the organic posts more than ten times that of the ads that have been at the center of public debate so far.
“Though the volume of these stories was a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook, any amount is too much,” Stretch will tell the Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
“Many of the ads and posts we’ve seen so far are deeply disturbing — seemingly intended to amplify societal divisions and pit groups of people against each other,” he’ll say. “They would be controversial even if they came from authentic accounts in the United States. But coming from foreign actors using fake accounts, they are simply unacceptable.”
Twitter will tell the same congressional panel that its internal investigation has revealed far more Russian activity than it originally disclosed.
The company will say it found 36,746 automated accounts with possible links to Russia that generated about 1.4 million election-related tweets during the 2016 campaign, according to a copy of the company’s testimony obtained by POLITICO. Those tweets were viewed about 288 million times, Twitter’s acting general counsel Sean Edgett will tell lawmakers.
Edgett will also reveal that Twitter found 2,752 accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, more than ten times the number it originally flagged to congressional investigators.
Meanwhile, Google said on Monday it found two accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency that spent $4,700 on search and display ads during the 2016 election cycle. On Google’s YouTube, 18 channels likely also associated with the Russian entity published videos in English with “content that appeared to be political,” the company said.
Facebook’s Stretch will say that the 126 million Americans — or 39 percent of the U.S. population — who were potentially exposed to the Russian-linked posts represent the outermost limit of their impact, given that Facebook users often skip over posts in their feeds.
The general counsel will also testify that Facebook established a conclusive link between APT 28 — a hacking group also known as “Fancy Bear” that has been connected to Russian military intelligence — and the website DC Leaks, a self-proclaimed activist site that researchers have said is a Russian front for posting stolen emails from U.S. political targets.
Facebook has been keeping a calendar of upcoming elections around the world and is using “internal and external resources to best predict the threat level to each,” Stretch will say.