Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, representatives from major social media and technology companies Facebook, Google and Twitter said Russian influence activities surrounding the 2016 election were more pronounced than previously reported.
Despite earlier claims of minimal exposure, Facebook now says that Russian propaganda and misinformation efforts may have reached up to 126 million users worldwide. The testimonies are part of the ongoing congressional probes into Russian election interference.
Similarly, Twitter shut down many more thousands of accounts linked to the Russian group “Internet Research Agency” than previously disclosed to Congress three weeks ago.
In a statement released Monday, Google described Russian influence as limited to advertisements bought for $4,700 on Google platforms, described as covering “both search and display ads.” Russian efforts on YouTube were more involved. 18 YouTube channels were linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency, for a total of 1,108 videos and 43 hours of content. These videos collected 309,000 views from June 2015 to November 2016.
Only about one year ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the (US) election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.”
But what exactly are the sorts of “fake news” and misinformation the Russian government been spreading? Surprisingly, most of it is relatively harmless political support for one cause or another, both right and left. Few posts were outrageous or offensive memes that would engender immediate disgust. Most simply added to the “white noise” of our political climate, which is already being dominated by extremists of both ends of the political spectrum.
Have you ever felt as though there doesn’t appear to be anyone who values consensus or common-sense resolutions to politics? That’s largely because these voices, a sort of “silent majority,” are being drowned out by pundits, hyper partisans, and Russian trolls on social media. It’s a self-inflicted gunshot wound that the Russian government is all too happy to exploit.
As reported by The Daily Beast, even Twitter’s CEO retweeted Russian propaganda, doing so twice when he believed he was retweeting uplifting information about Women’s History Month and a meme declaring: “Nobody is born a racist. This picture is so sweet! Teach your children to judge others by the kind of person they are inside.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Senate