Last week, Congress called on Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify regarding discoveries of Russian-linked accounts tampering with last year’s U.S. presidential elections. Representatives of these companies testified on the manipulation tactics through their platforms.
Disguised as American political activists, these Russian-linked accounts, bots and ads reportedly spread misinformation regarding American news topics during and after the U.S. presidential election.
The accounts pushed propaganda to an estimated 150 million Facebook users, uploaded more than 1,000 YouTube videos and spread millions of tweets that included fake news on the election.
The pushed content largely included incorrect information on how to vote, anti-Clinton posts, Black Lives Matter activism and more. While some ads aimed to attack Trump’s image, the majority promoted a “down with Clinton” ideology. In one ad, the headline read, “Satan: If I win, Clinton wins.” Aside from blatant support or unsupport for either candidate, the ads also highlighted American division with posts all displaying either extreme right or extreme left ideals.
Why is this a problem?
More than 139 million Americans cast their vote in the 2016 presidential elections according to data collected by the U.S. Elections Project. The discovery of Russian involvement in the spread of manipulative information indicates that many of these votes may have been cast under misguided pretenses.
Since Trump has taken office, the FBI has continually investigated Russia’s alleged ties to the election. The discovery of Russia’s previous influence on American political movements through social media gives way to the notion that Russian interference on America’s popular political opinion goes beyond the 2016 election, according to Sen. Marco Rubio.
“These operations — while we’re talking about the 2016 presidential race — they’re not limited to 2016, and they were not limited to the presidential race, and they continue to this day,” he said. “They are much more widespread than one election.”
According to the Washington Post, an estimated 56 percent of the Russian-linked ads were displayed after the Nov. 8 election. Many of the findings linked to the Russian government-funded television network, Russia Today. In a statement on the network, Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan defended the network against allegations.
“Somehow it did not cross our mind that in a developed democracy, regular media advertising can be considered suspicious or detrimental activity,” said Simonyan on RT. “Similar campaigns are conducted by the American media in the Russian segment of Twitter. It’ll be very interesting to find out how much they spend on it, who they target and for what purpose.”
What is being done about this?
Facebook reportedly revealed its findings of 450 accounts and $100,000 in political ad spending linked to Russia.
“We’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement on the site. “Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook.”
Twitter PublicPolicy announced in a blog post that they plan to “donate the $1.9 million we are projected to have earned from RT global advertising since they became an advertiser in 2011 . . . and donate those funds to support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.”