Russian content on Facebook may have reached 126 million users — far more than first disclosed, company testimony says

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Facebook plans to tell lawmakers on Tuesday that 126 million of its users may have seen content produced and circulated by Russian operatives, many times more than what the company previously disclosed about the reach of the disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.

Google on Monday acknowledged for the first time that its platforms were also compromised, revealing that Russian trolls uploaded over a thousand videos to YouTube on 18 different channels.

The disclosures, which are contained in draft testimonies obtained by The Washington Post ahead of three Capitol Hill hearings this week, come as tech giants face mounting pressure to more fully investigate how Russians used their platforms to influence American voters and reveal more of their findings to the public.

Previously, Facebook had focused its disclosures on Russian ads. The company has said that 470 accounts and pages run by a Russian troll farm had purchased roughly 3,000 ads, which the company said reached an estimated 10 million users. But the troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency, also published free content. Researchers estimated that the spread of free content was far greater than that of ads and that Facebook has been under pressure to share more about those posts.

On Tuesday, Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch is expected to say that between 2015 and 2017, the troll farm posted about 80,000 times, and that roughly 29 million people received that content in their news feeds. Because those posts were also liked, shared, and commented on by Facebook users, the company estimates that three times more people – and at most 126 million – may have been exposed to a story that originated from Russian operatives.

For Facebook, which places roughly 220 posts each day in the news feeds of U.S. users, the amount of content equals about tiny fraction of total content served. Americans in total were served over 33 trillion stories in their News Feeds between 2015 and 2017.

In a blog post published late Monday, Google said it had found 18 English-language channels with 1,108 videos uploaded, totaling about 43 hours of content, that originated with Russian operatives.

The company also found that two accounts linked to the Russian troll farm spent a total of $4,700 on search and display ads during the 2016 election cycle. 

This story is developing



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