little green footballs

Facebook's Russian Propaganda Was Probably Shared Hundreds of Millions of Times

Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 11:34:13 am

A few days ago on Twitter I made a point to MSNBC host Chris Hayes about the ads placed by Russian front groups on Facebook, after he said on his show that it seemed like $100,000 was just a "drop in the bucket" as advertising costs go:

.@chrislhayes Don't forget that Russia's $100K ad buy on Facebook is multiplied by Trump fans who spread each ad by the MILLIONS.

— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) September 29, 2017

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After I tweeted this, I immediately heard from a gaggle of right wing trolls and Trump cultists mocking and deriding my comment, demanding proof, throwing insults, you know the drill.

Well, now we have a study from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University that backs up my statement very nicely: Russian propaganda may have been shared hundreds of millions of times, new research says.

Facebook has said ads bought by Russian operatives reached 10 million of its users.

But does that include everyone reached by the information operation? Couldn’t the Russians also have created simple — and free — Facebook posts and hoped they went viral? And if so, how many times were these messages seen by Facebook’s massive user base?

The answers to those questions, which social media analyst Jonathan Albright studied for a research document he posted online Thursday, are: No. Yes. And hundreds of millions — perhaps many billions — of times.

“The primary push to influence wasn’t necessarily through paid advertising,” said Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “The best way to to understand this from a strategic perspective is organic reach.”

In other words, to understand Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, the frame should not be the reach of the 3,000 ads that Facebook handed over to Congress and that were bought by a single Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency. Instead, the frame should be the reach of all the activity of the Russian-controlled accounts — each post, each “like,” each comment and also all of the ads. Looked at this way, the picture shifts dramatically.