Social media users might be shocked to hear just how much Russia has been influencing their feeds.
While most of the ongoing Congressional probe is focused on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, the information trickling out provides insight into how much sway tech and social media giants have over the information everyone consumes on a daily basis. For once, Congress isn’t trying to solve a boring regulatory problem users wouldn’t care about, it’s a matter of uncovering serious foreign espionage.
Facebook ads bought by Russia-linked entities targeted far more than just Michigan and Wisconsin, the two states originally listed in media reports, both of which were crucial to Donald Trump’s win last November.
“It seems that the overall theme of the Russian involvement in the U.S. election was to create chaos at every level,” Senate intelligence committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr said Wednesday.
Execs from Google’s Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter have all been asked to testify in an open hearing Nov. 1 with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Facebook announced Oct. 4 it will be there. Here’s what we hope to hear more about:
- Conclusions on collusion: No final conclusions have been reached on whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, but the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said there is a “large consensus” that Russians hacked into political files and made other moves in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election and “to drive interests to stories or groups [on social media] to sow chaos and plant division.” Social media companies should be doing much more to help maintain the integrity of the U.S. election process,Warner said, including possibly submit to regulations that would bring political ads on social media in line with current rules for broadcast and print ads.
- 201 Twitter accounts already shut down: Twitter told investigators on Sept. 28 it suspended more than 200 accounts with links to Russia or Russian bots and operatives. The accounts were tied to the same Russian operatives who posted thousands of political ads on Facebook, the Washington Post reports.
- Russian “news” sites target U.S. readers: The social media giant also revealed RT, a propaganda news site linked to the Kremlin, spent at least $274,100 in U.S.-targeted Twitter ads. The handles @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT together promoted more than 1,800 tweets targeted at avid followers of mainstream media and promoted RT tweets about news stories, the company said on its blog.
- Lawmakers want Twitter to step up: After a closed-door meetings with Twitter, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia questioned whether Twitter is doing enough to stop Russian operatives from using social media platforms to spread disinformation and division in American society, calling Twitter’s presentation for the House and Senate committees “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate on every level,” according to Politico.
- Facebook’s Russia problem: Facebook already had one turn in the hot seat, agreeing under pressure to hand over information to Congress and Special Counsel Robert Muller about Russian-backed ads. The 3,000+ Kremlin-tied ads were aimed at sowing seeds of controversy in the Black Lives Matter movement and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook revealed on Sept. 6 it accepted about $100,000 in ad spending that was connected with 470 inauthentic accounts likely operated out of Russia.
- How — and how cheaply — trolls stalk their audience: The world’s largest social network easily enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the Facebook feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or “History of ‘why jews ruin the world’,” the non-profit investigative journalism project ProPublica revealed Sept. 14. For the low price of $30, ProPublica bought three “promoted posts” targeted to categories with those anti-semitic phrases — and got the ads approved in under 15 minutes.