Facebook—along with Twitter and Google—is under new scrutiny for its role in allowing Russian-linked accounts to spread misinformation around the 2016 election. Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the influence of the false and manipulative posts masquerading as news immediately after the election. But the company has changed its tune of late, become more willing to share what it knows about how its platform was used, and fessed up to some 3,000 political ads that were bought by Russian-affiliated accounts targeting American voters. On Monday, in a blog post, Facebook revealed the platform’s reach, estimating the Russian-bought ads were seen by a whopping 10 million American users.
“Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,” writes Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s Vice President of Policy and Communications. Here’s more on who they reached:
- An estimated 10 million people in the US saw the ads. We were able to approximate the number of unique people (“reach”) who saw at least one of these ads, with our best modeling
- 44% of the ads were seen before the US election on November 8, 2016; 56% were seen after the election.
- Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.
- For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.
Considering the margin of victory in many states, and the election as a whole in 2016, the visibility of these Russian-backed ads is particularly troubling. “The ad buyers spent just $100,000 over two years to target 10 million people, according to figures Facebook has provided about the ad buys,” CNN reports. “That's an audience roughly equivalent to the population of Michigan.” And that’s just what the social network has discovered so far; Schrage said in his post there could be more that Facebook has not found yet.