Facebook has said that 29 million Americans saw content created by Russian agents directly in their news feed, while 126 million shared posts that were shared or linked to by their friends, with that number rising to roughly 150 million when including Instagram. On Election Day itself, about 10 million people saw ads purchased by the Kremlin on Facebook, the company has said.
Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, said the company hoped the tool would help Americans who liked a page or followed an account created by a Russian agent, though he acknowledged that it stopped short of being able to help the much wider circle of people who viewed Russian propaganda shared by their friends.
Facebook executives previously said they doubted whether they had the ability to reach out to every single American who was exposed to Russian government-backed propaganda.
“It’s a much more challenging issue to identify and notify reliably people who may have been exposed to this content on an individual basis,” Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel, said during the appearance before Congress.
For now, the tool may only be able to help you if you chose to follow one of the accounts or pages set up by Russian agents on Instagram or Facebook. According to experts who have studied disinformation campaigns, that accounts for only a tiny sliver of the people Facebook estimate were affected by content Russian posted online.
“People are much more affected by content shared by their friends, they are more likely to click on it and spend time reading it and considering its merits when a trusted friend shares it on their Facebook page,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, which tracks the spread of misinformation online. “People don’t know the extent to which they are influenced by what their trusted social circles post online.”
The lesson? Choose your friends carefully.