Facebook detailed the extent of Russia’s election interference campaign on Instagram today during its second congressional hearing. Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch said that 120,000 posts by Russian election attackers reached 16 million Americans from October through the election, and the posts reached an additional 4 million Americans prior to October when Facebook has less complete data.
That’s on top of the 126 million Americans reached by Russian election propaganda on Facebook. It’s unclear if these two groups overlap, but if not that would bring the total number to 146 million Americans. That’s a big climb from the original 10 million figure Facebook originally announced as the audience of Russian election interference.
For context, yesterday Twitter said that its investigation had found 2700 accounts tied to Russia election interference, which was a steep increase from the 200 in initially announced last month. And today Twitter general counsel Sean Edgett was accused of underreporting the percentage of Twitter’s users that are bots, which he said was under 5%, but that the Senate Intelligence Committee said outside estimates peg at much higher.
Stretch was bashed by Senator Mark Warner after he failed to unequivocally answer whether accounts taken down for attacking the recent French election had been cross-checked for having also attacked the U.S. presidential election. Stretch has been told to come back with that information. He did admit that the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent a combined $81 million on Facebook ads in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election compared to $46,000 by the Russian Internet Research Agency. So Trump plus Clinton spent 1760X as much as the IRA.
Edgett noted that it deleted 106 accounts that sent over 700 vote-by-text tweets, which is an example of criminal voter suppression since you can’t actually vote over SMS. Perhaps the next investigation for Congress will involve US mobile telecoms, and seek to find out just how many people actually tried to vote by text.
Yesterday, Congress grilled these companies about their ongoing investigations, focusing on the fact that they don’t actually know if U.S. shell companies are being used to hide Russian election meddlers who wanted to buy ads. The overall accusatory tone of the congressional committee, admonishment of the companies for their failures, and its requests for more information may indicate sufficient fervor to apply new regulations to tech giants, rather than allowing them to merely self-regulate.
After noting that these election attacks could be the start of a U.S.-Russia cyberwar, Senator Diane Feinstein delivered the quote of the day, saying “You bear the responsibility. You created these platforms, and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it…or we will.”