Facebook on Monday estimated that as many as 10 million people saw the political advertisements that were purchased by a shadowy Russian internet agency and ran on its platform. The company made the announcement after turning over 3,000 ads to congressional investigators examining Russian interference in the US election. Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice-president of policy and communications, said the advertisements appeared to focus on “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights”. Less than half of the ads were seen prior to the US election on 8 November, Schrage said in the post, while 56% were viewed afterward. And roughly a quarter of the ads were not seen by anyone. On 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent, he said.
He also said that some of the ads were paid for in Russian currency, but said that distinction alone was not a “good way” of identifying suspicious activity. Schrage defended the company’s use of targeted advertising but said “certain types of targeting will now require additional human review and approval”.
Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, is under mounting pressure from lawmakers and the public to disclose more details about Russia’s use of the platforms to spread disinformation and propaganda as part of an influence campaign ahead of the elections – a notion Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, initially dismissed as “crazy”. Last week, Zuckerberg apologized: “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive.”