Facebook has reportedly upped its estimate of how much content was produced by Russian-backed actors during the election and how widely that content was seen. According to prepared remarks due to be presented tomorrow but acquired by the Wall Street Journal today, the company estimates 80,000 pieces of content may have been viewed by a total of 126 million people.
The news came as part of what appears to be a concerted effort to spread the news online ahead of the hearing at the Senate’s judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism. Remarks were obtained by several outlets and Google even put up an official blog post to accompany the news stories.
Previous estimates by Facebook included only the 3,000 ads from 470 separate accounts associated with Russian “entity” the Internet Research Agency. But organic posts, images, events, and other things also matter, not just ads — so Facebook was asked to include these as well.
The resulting numbers aren’t pretty, though it must be said that with engagement on Facebook, the numbers are astronomical to begin with, so even tiny fractions of overall activity end up with 9 or 10 figures.
That’s not to say that reaching 126 million people is a trivial task; you could spend a lot of money and not get close to that. That’s where networks of bots and fake accounts come in. By juicing the ads, posts, and so on with likes, shares, and tags, bot networks would have been crucial in getting these pieces of content onto more news feeds. In fact, the leaked remarks put the original reach at 29 million users, meaning sharing mechanisms more than quadrupled the number who potentially saw the content.
Twitter and Google will be represented at the hearing as well. Twitter is expected to announce that the number of Russia-linked accounts associated with election interference is not 200 but 2,700, according to documents acquired by Recode, and that together they tweeted some 1.4 million times about the election. Google is also bringing new numbers to the meeting, which were acquired by the New York Times — but the engagement levels are orders of magnitude smaller.
Facebook has already admitted failure to some degree in allowing these ads to have been shown, and has pledged a variety of countermeasures. I’ve asked the company for comment and more details on the numbers above, and will update this post accordingly if I hear back.