Disclosure of even bigger numbers comes ahead of Tuesday testimony on Capitol Hill.
Ahead of a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill, a combination of leaked statements and official blogs confirmed wider-ranging impact by Russian “state actors” on platforms operated by Facebook and Google than the companies had previously disclosed.
Reports from the Washington Post and Recode separately claim that Facebook’s Tuesday testimony will state that up to 126 million people were exposed to Russian operations on its site during the 2016 Presidential election season. Facebook’s official statements have previously focused solely on the reach of paid advertisements. This new, larger number is due to Facebook now counting non-ad operations conducted by the Internet Research Agency, a disinformation organization with Russian ties. Reports have pointed to the IRA creating seemingly legitimate American accounts with aims of indirect political disruption.
According to reports, Facebook will say on Tuesday that this “troll farm” posted 80,000 times between 2015 and 2017, which resulted in 29 million direct appearances on Facebook news feeds. Thanks to real users liking, sharing, and commenting on these posts, the IRA campaign’s total reach is somewhere between 87 and 126 million impressions, according to Facebook’s estimations.
In addition, Google published a report that included a stark admission of Russian disinformation on YouTube to the tune of 1,108 videos. Google says that these videos, which totaled 43 hours of content, were published by 18 channels “likely associated” with the Internet Research Agency, a disinformation organization with Russian ties.
Those YouTube videos were posted in English with “content that appeared to be political” sandwiched between non-political content like travelogues. The channels in question racked up 309,000 views between June 2016 and November 2016. Google did not disclose YouTube channel or account names for this content.
These disclosures paint a fuller picture of a disinformation campaign, outside of paid advertisements, that researchers have recently speculated about. Disinformation campaigns like the IRA’s may have revolved more around seemingly real people who start out posting a mix of innocuous and political content before aiming politically divisive messages at a bucket of like-minded users. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey proved how effective this style of disruption could be when reporters found out that he’d shared two links posted by a phony Russian account posing as an American supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
That account eventually went on to post links to dubious reports about the KKK’s support of Hillary Clinton—and its message may have been buoyed by someone as prominent as Dorsey sharing more innocent posts in previous months.