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Russian propaganda ads reached 10m US Facebook users

Facebook has revealed that 10-million US users were shown Russian propaganda ads that may have interfered with the 2016 US election — and that may not be the final number.

In a blog post connected to the company’s Hard Questions series, Vice President of Policy and Communications Elliot Schrage provided more clarity on an issue that has been intentionally left murky.

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Schrage said that the total reach of dubious Russian ads was 10-million people, but only 44% of ad impressions (the number of times ads were displayed) were before the election. The company has not clarified user reach prior to the election.

In 2016, the US had approximately 231-million eligible voters, with only around 138-million ballots counted. If we assume that only half the users who saw the ads voted while also factoring the fewer ads shown before the election, 1.7% of votes could have been affected by Russian Facebook propaganda.

It’s difficult to say if this would have affected the result of the election, because the US has a complicated democratic system not rooted in popular vote — but Facebook may have the data to make an educated guess as to its own impact.

This information might take a while — if ever — to be released. According to Schrage, the company is still looking for “abuse and bad actors” on its platform.

He also made clear that the company was working with other major social networks like Twitter and Google “on a range of elements related to this investigation”.

Both Facebook and Twitter have admitted to displaying Russian ads, while Google has said there is no evidence of such an ad campaign running on any of its platforms.

Featured image: Anthony Quintano via Flickr (CC BY 2.0, resized)

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