Facebook reveals 10 million people saw Russian troll ads during the 2016 election

October 2, 2017, 8:31pm

Just hours after giving Congressional investigators copies of Facebook ads likely purchased by Russian operatives during the 2016 election, the company made public a host of new details — including who saw them and when.

About 10 million Facebook users in the U.S. viewed the ads, and 44 percent of the views occurred prior to the November 8 election, said Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Policy and Communications at Facebook. The ads, multiple outlets report, appeared to be aimed at stoking divisive issues in American politics, including LGBT rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Second Amendment.

“For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent,” Schrage said. “Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.”

The release strongly resembles Facebook’s initial September 6 disclosure that a troll farm associated with the Russian government spent an estimated $100,000 on 3,000 U.S. Facebook ads. In that instance, Facebook also disclosed the information hours after handing over evidence to Congressional investigators.

The company has announced plans to hire an additional 1,000 people to review its ad purchases worldwide, and recently introduced a set of changes to make political spending on Facebook more transparent.

“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a September 21 Facebook Live broadcast, outlining “the steps we’re taking to protect election integrity and make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy.”

The company’s latest disclosure will likely be the subject of Wednesday’s hotly anticipated press conference from Senate intel committee chairman Richard Burr and the senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner. Still, although news organizations have already reported on some of the details of some of the ads, Burr says that he does not plan to publicly release the full cache.

Sen. Warner and the Democrats, meanwhile, have been shopping legislation to other lawmakers that would force the Federal Election Commission to more tightly regulate digital political ads — something members of Congress, former FEC officials, and experts alike all agree the agency has neglected by failing to keep up with rapid changes in internet advertising.

A representative for Sen. Warner declined to comment.

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