By Barry Eitel
As many as 126 million Americans may have seen political content generated by fake Facebook accounts linked to Russia between 2015 and 2017, Facebook said Tuesday.
The data was released by lawyers for Facebook during a hearing before the Senate. It appears far more people -- almost a third of the population of the United States -- saw information spread on Facebook by accounts connected to the Russian government than previously thought.
Earlier this year, Facebook said some 10 million Americans saw content generated by Russian operators.
Most of this content apparently aimed to increase discord among voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Much of the content, which included images, videos and articles, was related to social issues.
Facebook has now found 36,746 accounts opened using fake information and likely connected to Russia. These accounts automatically shared and spread content related to the national elections.
“Many of the ads and posts we’ve seen so far are deeply disturbing — seemingly intended to amplify societal divisions and pit groups of people against each other,” Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch said in a statement. “Coming from foreign actors using fake accounts, they are simply unacceptable.”
Senators are holding other hearings this week with representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to learn more about the extent of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election via social media.
Also on Tuesday, two senators introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at increasing the security for voting machines used in the U.S. The Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act calls for more communication between federal cybersecurity analysts and states as well as grants to make voting machines more secure against hackers.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Susan Collins.
“Our democracy hinges on protecting Americans’ ability to fairly choose our own leaders,” Heinrich said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to protect the security and integrity of our elections. The SAVE Act would ensure states are better equipped to develop solutions and respond to threats posed to election systems.”