What Facebook and Twitter will say in Congress today and tomorrow

What is next?
What is next?
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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It’s shaping up to be an eventful Halloween in the United States, with the specter of Russian interference in the 2016 election looming over Washington DC. Representatives of tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google are testifying before Congress Tuesday (Oct. 31), and Wednesday (Nov. 1). Remarks begin at 2:30 ET in front of the Senate judiciary subcommittee led by Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.

According to prepared remarks from Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, obtained by Quartz, Russian-linked content may have reached 126 million Americans, many more than the company  previously admitted. Twitter’s numbers also are far higher than reported thus far: 36,746 accounts found to be associated with Russian accounts “generated approximately 1.4 million automated, election-related Tweets, which collectively received approximately 288 million impressions,” according to a source briefed on the testimony.

Both companies downplay the number of Russian-linked posts on their platforms as a small fraction of overall content. Only  0.004% of content in Facebook’s News Feed, where many users get their news, were Russian-linked from 2015 to 2017, for instance. Twitter says automated, Russian-linked accounts “constituted less than three quarters of a percent (0.74%) of the overall election-related Tweets on Twitter at the time.” 

Facebook said 29 million people were directly served 80,000 posts generated by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), and that because of people liking, sharing, and commenting, a further 100 million could have seen the content.  The company also estimates that 11.4 million people saw at least one ad purchased by the IRA. In total, Americans saw more than 33 trillion posts in their News Feeds from 2015 to 2017, with 11 trillion of them being from Pages.

The company will outline efforts to identify and delete fake accounts, and block them from popping up in the first place. Stretch will detail Facebook’s previously introduced plan to label political ads, disclose who paid for them, and verify the identities of political advertisers. The company apparently would prefer to forestall federal legislation, now introduced, that will regulate how digital political ads are placed and identified online.

Twitter said it analyzed 189 million election-related Tweets, out of 16 billion unique tweets during the relevant period. As noted, 36,746 automated accounts were linked to Russia, and the company emphasizes it caught about half of the content from these accounts. 

The company also uncovered 2,752 accounts associated with the IRA (versus the 201 they disclosed to Congress previously). All of these have been suspended. Twitter also added, as they announced last week, that they have banned advertisements from Kremlin-linked news organizations RT and Sputnik.