As many as 126 million people — or one-third the U.S. population — may have seen material posted by a Russian troll farm under fake Facebook identities between 2015 and 2017, according to planned testimony by Facebook’s general counsel obtained by USA TODAY.
The figure is the largest yet of the possible reach Russian operatives had on the giant social platformin the run-up to last year’s presidential election and afterwards. and reflects Facebook’s new disclosures that a Kremlin-linked misinformation agency used original content in users’ feeds, as well as paid ads. Previously Facebook said 10 million people saw Russia-linked advertising that sought to sway U.S. voters.
The figures come as Capitol Hill readies itself for three hearings on the ways Russia used social media to influence the U.S. 2016 election, one on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
Social media companies are under pressure to respond to demands by lawmakers that they follow the same regulations on political ads as advertisers in newspapers and on radio and television currently do, including disclosures about who paid for the ads and bans on foreign entities running election-related ads. Facebook, Google and Twitter have all said they would begin doing so, though lawmakers have pushed for additional concessions.
Twitter, which originally said it found 201 accounts linked to Russia that were sending out automated, election-related content, also increased its estimates of the reach these operatives had on its platform. It has now found 36,746 such accounts, according to testimony to be presented by the company’s acting general counsel Sean Edgett.
In a blog post Monday about its testimony for Tuesday, Google reported that it had found 18 YouTube channels it believes were associated with the campaign.
The companies’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism shows that Russian attempts to influence U.S. voters by using the power of social media platforms and an understanding of hot-button social issues was much broader than originally thought.