Executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism on Oct. 31, 2017. They will be required to answer questions about the exploitation of their sites’ by the by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian propaganda producing company. They are a pro-Kremlin troll farm dedicated to creating chaos.
In hearings on Oct. 30, Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel told the committee that as many as 126 million of its users who may have read IRA posts between 2015-17. Furthermore, they estimate that 11.4 million people in the U.S. had seen at least one advertisement created at the farm.
According to Stretch, these ads contained social and political designed to cause discord. Messages were intended to disrupt the peace of those “across the ideological spectrum.” Topics “from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights” were some of the focus of these ads.
The actual number of users who received propaganda directly to their news feeds is an estimated 29 million. Facebook arrived at 126 million due to the frequent post sharing, like, and forwarding the inaccurate information. In reviewing the ads and posts, Stretch continued to explain, that they found them to be “deeply disturbing…seemingly intended to amplify social divisions and pit groups of people against each other.”
Adrian Chen for The New York Times described a news feed in 2015 about a chemical plant in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. The coverage seemed so real that reporters and newscasters spread the hoax as if it were real. Chen wrote:
Dozens of journalists, media outlets, and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster.
Within a short span of time, another hoax spread about an Ebola breakout. Then there was a shooting of an unarmed black woman by police. This was particularly inflammatory since the country was already at odds over the shooting of Micheal Brown earlier in the year. Hashtag #shockingmurderinatlanta accompanied all of the posts.
The IRA left nothing to question, down to film that replicated the location exactly. Their IP addresses were untraceable as were the supposed users who spread the posts. The troll farm did what it set out to do. It reeked havoc among Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social media sites. It exploited the human need to be in control of the dialogue.
There is still much to learn about Russian influence on the outcome of the election. Certain facts are undeniable. They managed to incite riots in the United States. Moreover, they posted fake news that was believable enough to divide the country further.
Opinion by Cathy Milne
USA Today: Russian fake accounts showed posts to 126 million Facebook users
The New York Times: The Agency
Reuters: Facebook, Twitter, Google executives to testify at U.S. Senate Russia hearing
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Alexandre Formagio’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License