Some 126 million people — about one-third of all Americans — received Facebook content created by Russia between January 2015 and August 2017. Twitter also estimates that more than 36,700 accounts on its platform may be associated with Russia, generating around 288 million impressions.
That’s a far greater reach than either social network initially told the public.
The news broke just one day before executives from executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google all plan to testify on Capitol Hill. These revelation is part of the written testimony of Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch and Twitter’s general counsel Sean Edgett, both of which were obtained by VICE News.
Originally, Facebook said that about only about 10 million Americans received content created by the Kremlin-supported accounts. However, that number only captured the ads those accounts bought — not the 80,000 posts of free content that these accounts also published.
It turns out that about 29 million Americans received that free content in their newsfeeds. And because those people then liked, commented, or shared that content, it quickly spread. Up to three times as many people were exposed to it, according to Stretch’s testimony.
While that number may sound high, Facebook serves trillions of posts to Americans’ newsfeeds every day. And Stretch, in his testimony, downplays its magnitude.
“This equals about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content,” Stretch’s testimony reads, before adding, “Though the volume of these stories was a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook, any amount is too much.”
Twitter’s Edgett will testify that his company’s analysis focused on a much smaller period of time: from just Sept. 1, 2016 to Nov. 15, 2016. Within that time frame, “we identified 36,746 accounts that generated automated, election-related content and had at least one of the characteristics we used to associate an account with Russia,” Edgett’s testimony reads. Those accounts sent out 1.4 million tweets related to the election.
Like Facebook, those tweets represent just a fraction of Twitter’s total use. During that time period, Edgett’s testimony estimates, there were about 16 billion tweets sent over the platform.
Google also released a report Monday night detailing its own investigation into Kremlin-backed accounts on its platforms. It found 18 Youtube channels that were likely associated with such accounts, whose 1,100-plus videos garnered just 309,000 views in the United States from June 2015 to November 2016. Those channels have now been suspended.
Google’s investigators also found that two Kremlin-linked accounts spent about $4,700 on advertising in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and that those ads were set to target users by geography or political preference.