Earlier in January this year, the US intelligence agencies expressed their concern about Russia’s interference in the US Presidential elections 2016. Through the election meddling, Russia tried to help President Donald Trump by promoting content and ads through social media.
In September, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the tech companies – Facebook, Twitter and Google- to testify about Russian interference in US politics. The committee asked the 3 giants to appear for a public hearing on November 1.
So let’s take a look at what the social media giants have to say about the election peddling:
1. Facebook says over 126 million people saw Russian-produced posts
On September, Facebook revealed that atleast 3,000 advertisements posted between June 2015 – May 2017 were linked to a Russia. The social media giant said that they had unknowingly bought political ads worth $100,000 from a Russia linked company called Internet Research Agency (IRA). The agency posted approximately 80000 pieces of divisive content.
Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, said over 29 million US-based Facebook users were served ads and other promoted content to their news feed. As these posts were liked, commented on and shared, the company said as many as 126 million users may have seen the ads – accounting for more than half of its US user base.
Many of the ads and promoted content were on highly charged political topics relating to gun ownership and LGBTQ and racial issues. The statistics revealed earlier this week by the tech giant were almost three-fold of the original figure that Facebook provided Congress earlier this year.
2. Twitter revealed thousands of accounts were associated with Russian election meddling
In his published testimony, Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, confirmed that 2,752 accounts were linked with Russia based IRA. The company said about 1.4 million automated, election-related tweets were related to the election peddling and the tweets received about 288 million impressions. But however, Twitter stressed that the figure was a small proportion of overall election-related tweets — less than 1 percent.
Further, Twitter revealed that Russia Today (RT), which has strong links with the Russian government, spent a whopping $274,100 in US ads in 2016. Twitter has faced criticism for claims that it was slow to respond to deleting accounts associated with US elections. Edgett’s testimony said that some of the accounts were known about as early as 2015.
3. Google says it saw only “limited activities”
Google’s published and spoken testimony pointed to “limited activity” by Russian propagandists on its network and services. The search giant said it conducted a broad review of its ads network -its primary moneymaker – dating back to mid-2015. But only 2 accounts were identified as connected to Russia-backed entities. Google also said it found 18 channels on YouTube with 1,100 videos dedicated to political content, of which only a fraction had more than a few thousand views. Also, the videos weren’t targeted at anyone in particular, but were shared on other social media platforms. Many of those social accounts were set up using Gmail.
The company has promised to release a transparency report regarding election ads on top of its existing government data demands and takedown request reports.