And that may be just a fraction of the total users who saw Kremlin disinformation in 2016
At least 1.4 million people on Twitter engaged with content created by Russian trolls during the 2016 presidential election, the company revealed on Wednesday.
That’s more than double the amount that Twitter initially identified — and perhaps still just a fraction of the full universe of users who may have witnessed Kremlin propaganda over that period.
In announcing the new data in a blog post, Twitter also said it had notified all 1.4 million affected users that they saw election disinformation. That fulfilled a pledge that the company previously made to members of Congress who are investigating Russia’s tactics on social media.
Notified users included those that followed one of the roughly 3,000 accounts belonging to the Internet Research Agency, the troll army tied to the Russian government, as well as users who retweeted, replied, liked or mentioned those IRA accounts in their tweets.
But Twitter did not alert users who merely saw Russian troll tweets in their feeds but did not interact with the content. Nor did it reach out to users who saw tweets from the roughly 50,000 Russian bots that tweeted election-related content around November 2016.
Put differently, the total number of Twitter users who saw Russian disinformation during the 2016 election probably surpasses the 1.4 million users who were alerted. At the very least, it’s more than the roughly 677,000 the company previously believed had seen Russian propaganda.
Asked for a final, fuller figure, a spokeswoman for the company declined comment. But Twitter’s blog post acknowledged that its notices did “not encompass every person that ever saw this content.”
“As our review continues, we may also email additional users,” the company continued. “If and when we do so, we will do our best to keep the public updated.”
Twitter’s update comes as the company and its peers, Facebook and Google, continue to face criticism on Capitol Hill for the content that appears on their platforms. Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers slammed Facebook and Twitter in particular for failing to address whether Russian trolls had again mobilized on their sites — this time, in a bid to prop up a campaign meant to discredit the FBI’s investigation into Kremlin meddling in U.S. politics.
While Twitter has never revealed the full number of users who saw and interacted with Russian trolls and bots, Facebook has: It said last year that IRA efforts to sow social unrest appeared in the News Feeds of 126 million U.S. users.
Like Twitter, however, Facebook only notified a subset of those users — individuals who followed or liked Russian pages or accounts. It has not specified how many users specifically received a heads-up.
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