October 31, 2017

How Many Facebook Users Saw Russian Ads?

The Russians have been attempting to meddle in American elections for decades. This problem is not new.

Facebook on Monday increased its previous estimate of the number of Americans who may have viewed Russian-created ads and content. Facebook now estimates that from summer 2015 to summer 2017, some 80,000 Russian generated posts were viewed by as many as 126 million people. This news comes about as Facebook is in the midst of rolling out its new ad system that will now require political advertisers to verify their identity.

It was also reported on Monday that Google-owned YouTube had been used by Russians to propagate messages via at least 1,100 political videos posted since 2015, totaling 43 hours of content. However, these videos were not that popular, as only 3% received more than 5,000 views.

The bigger question, which honestly is impossible to answer, is just how influential or impactful were these Russian ads? They might have been viewed by 126 million people, but that’s highly unlikely given that the count is of page impressions, not eyeballs or attention. The ads are being described as targeting polarizing hot-button issues like immigration and gun rights, which are obviously not new political issues. Generally, most people’s votes are influenced by an array of issues, but loyalty to party is still the leading determining factor in how someone will decide to vote. So just how much influence did the Russians have?

Another question seemingly ignored by the mainstream media is this: What was the Russians’ intent? What seems clear is that these ads were not intended to promote either candidate; rather the purpose was to sow distrust among the American people in our political and electoral system. The Russians cared little over who was sitting in the White House.

Finally, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Russians would be trying to impact the U.S. election. This problem has been going on for generations now. It’s quite simply naïve to assume that this election was the first time the Russians attempted this type of election meddling.

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