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Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone

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Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), talks about online political ads and preventing foreign interference in elections at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 19, 2017. Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook while uploading more than 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service, according to two people familiar with the matter. - AL DRAGO/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Al Drago/The New York Times
  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), talks about online political ads and preventing foreign interference in elections at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 19, 2017. Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook while uploading more than 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service, according to two people familiar with the matter.

By MIKE ISAAC and DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI
© 2017 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — Russian agents intending to sow discord among Americans disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service, according to copies of prepared remarks from the companies that were obtained by The New York Times.

The detailed disclosures, sent to Congress on Monday by companies whose products are among the most widely used on the internet, came before a series of congressional hearings this week into how third parties used social networks and online services to influence millions of Americans before the 2016 presidential election.

The new information goes far beyond what the companies have revealed in the past and underline the breadth of the Kremlin’s efforts to lever open divisions in the United States using American technology platforms, especially Facebook. Multiple investigations of Russian meddling have loomed over the first 10 months of Donald Trump’s presidency, with one leading to the indictments of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief, and others on Monday.

In its prepared remarks sent to Congress, Facebook said the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin, had posted roughly 80,000 pieces of divisive content that was shown to about 29 million people between January 2015 and August 2017. Those posts were then liked, shared and followed by others, spreading the messages to tens of millions more people.

The Russia-linked posts were “an insidious attempt to drive people apart,” Colin Stretch, the general counsel for Facebook who will appear at the hearings, said in his prepared remarks. He called the posts “deeply disturbing,” and noted they focused on race, religion, gun rights, and gay and transgender issues.

Twitter, in its prepared remarks, said it had discovered more than 2,700 accounts on its service that were linked to the Internet Research Agency between September 2016 and November 2016. Twitter also identified more than 36,000 automated accounts that posted 1.4 million election-related tweets linked to Russia over that three-month period. The tweets received approximately 288 million views, according to the company’s remarks.

Google, in its prepared statement, said it had also found evidence that the Internet Research Agency bought ads on its services and created YouTube channels to upload short videos about divisive social issues including law enforcement, race relations or Syria.