Facebook: 126M May Have Seen Russian Propaganda

I don't know what will finally put paid the garbage narrative that "Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate." She commandingly won the popular vote despite relentless misogyny, shameful media coverage, voter suppression, James Comey's gross unprofessionalism, Republican skullduggery, and unprecedented foreign interference, the vast scope of which we are still only beginning to understand.

And here is yet another nail in the coffin in which that narrative should be buried for all eternity, care of Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin at the Washington Post:
Facebook plans to tell lawmakers on Tuesday that 126 million of its users may have seen content produced and circulated by Russian operatives, many times more than the company had previously disclosed about the reach of the online influence campaign targeting American voters.

The company previously reported that an estimated 10 million users had seen ads bought by Russian-controlled accounts and pages. But Facebook has been silent regarding the spread of free content despite independent researchers suggesting that it was seen by far more users than the ads were.

...Twitter also plans to tell congressional investigators that it has identified 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives and more than 36,000 bots that tweeted 1.4 million times during the election, according to a draft of Twitter's testimony obtained by The Post. The company previously reported 201 accounts linked to Russia.
The difference between 10 million and 126 million is significant. The difference between 201 and 2,752 is significant, too. Facebook and Twitter vastly underestimated the reach of Russian influence in previous disclosures.

Facebook and Twitter must be forthcoming about how their platforms were used and how broadly. And they must aid investigators, because it's virtually impossible for outside researchers to use public data to determine if there was collusion.
"If there was collusion in the social media campaign between the Russians and the Trump campaign, they would have that evidence," said Philip N. Howard of Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project. "It is a needle in a haystack for us outside researchers."
And naturally we must recognize that the problem is not contained to the previous election, but is ongoing. The Russians were never going to walk away from exploiting social media platforms after they were wildly successful in 2016, and they haven't. Denise Clifton at Mother Jones reports:
Russian bots and trolls on Twitter have stayed plenty busy lately. In the days before charges against three former Trump campaign officials were unsealed on Monday, Russian influencers tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard were pushing stories on Twitter about "collusion" between Russia and Hillary Clinton—a narrative regarding a 2010 sale of uranium rights that has long since been debunked.

According to the nonpartisan security research project, a week's worth of tweets from late October turned up a wave of content with "some variation on a theme of corruption, collusion, cover-up by the Clinton-led State Department and/or the Mueller-led FBI," as well as content attacking special counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey.

And since Friday, when news reports made clear that the special counsel's team was moving ahead with indictments, the dashboard began registering a sharp increase in attacks specifically against Mueller.
Facebook and Twitter have insinuated themselves into the culture as conduits of public discussion. To be such prominent vessels of the public square comes with responsibilities beyond making as much money as possible for shareholders. They failed miserably in their ethical obligations during the 2016 election, and that has had major consequences for us all.

They cannot continue to fail. The Russians will keep coming, and social media companies need to decide what side they're on, because there's no neutral in this fight.

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