Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Russian Content on Social Media More Widespread Than Previously Reported

Almost a year ago, after the election, I wrote a post on Internet culture in the Trump era. In it, I observed (emphasis added):
"I don't believe any single cause explains the election results and it is not my intent today to suggest otherwise. It's more that, in a way, I find that many of the post-election analyses I've read seem quaint in what is assumed about the electorate in the Internet age. Although I joined Twitter in 2009 and used it sparsely then, I picked it back up about a year ago. What I saw as I followed Election 2016 is that news and narratives happen very fast on Twitter - and related, so does the cruelty.

As Twitter users would live-Tweet the debates, they would instantly begin creating hashtags and memes about memorable moments and quotes. It wouldn't be until the next day, and sometimes later, that traditional media would catch up, running a story about a popular hashtag or quote. I annoyed my wife many times when she'd try to relay a bit of news to me only for me to inform her that people on Twitter had that conversation, like, 36 hours ago. Which is practically a month in Twitter time.

I began to see that people active on social media, and Twitter especially, were having different experiences of Election 2016 than people who were not."
Over the past year, we have continued to learn more about why social media has been so heavily implicated in the results of the 2016 election. Most recently, via the Washington Post, it's being reported that Russian operatives not only used popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread propaganda, but that these activities are much more widespread than these companies previously reported:
"Facebook has said Russia’s efforts to influence the election involved 470 accounts and pages that spent more than $100,000 on 3,000 ads that reached 10 millions users. But outside researchers have said for weeks that free posts almost certainly reached much larger audiences — a point that Facebook will concede in its testimony on Tuesday.

Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that between 2015 and 2017, a single Russian operation in St. Petersburg generated about 80,000 posts and that roughly 29 million people potentially saw that content in their news feeds.

Because those posts were also liked, shared and commented on by Facebook users, the company estimates that as many as 126 million people may have seen material in their news feeds that originated from Russian operatives, which was crafted to mimic American commentary on politics and social matters such as immigration, African American activism and the rising prominence of Muslims in the United States."
Relatedly, there are some rumors that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is considering a presidential run in 2020. Given Facebook's potential to influence voter opinions and spread propaganda behind the scenes, that rumor sends chills down my spine. (There's also the fact that he's unqualified, but it's been amply established that qualifications no longer matter in our democracy).

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