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Emba writes: "As if we needed more evidence that Facebook influenced the election. Last week, the social-media company revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign it sold more than $100,000 in ads to a Kremlin-linked 'troll farm' seeking to influence U.S. voters. An additional $50,000 in ads also appear suspect but were less verifiably linked to the Russian government."

Facebook. (photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Facebook. (photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

When It Comes to Facebook, Russia's $100,000 Is Worth More Than You Think

By Christine Emba, The Washington Post

11 September 17


s if we needed more evidence that Facebook influenced the election.

Last week, the social-media company revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign it sold more than $100,000 in ads to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” seeking to influence U.S. voters. An additional $50,000 in ads also appear suspect but were less verifiably linked to the Russian government.

In the grand — at this point, far too grand — scheme of campaign spending, $150,000 doesn’t sound like much. It’s a minor TV ad buy, perhaps, or a wardrobe makeover for one vice-presidential candidate. But in the context of Facebook, it matters quite a bit. Not just for what it might have done to the election but also for what it says about us.

Apart from Web marketers and media-company employees, few seem to be fully aware of how influential Facebook can be. And why should they? Our use of the site tends to be mindless — ogling a relative’s new baby, scrolling past 60-second cooking videos and maybe liking an article or two if they catch our eye.

Yet there’s no question Facebook has a big influence on our worldview, whether we realize it or not. Sixty-six percent of U.S. Facebook users admit that they get news from the site, a number that in the end amounts to 44 percent of the general U.S. population. And people are more likely to believe news shared by their friends.

So what news do they get? Here’s where a seemingly minor ad buy becomes alarming. Because of its millions of users and the site’s focus on sharing, Facebook has a news reach that can transcend that of traditional media such as print or television. And that reach comes oddly cheap. One hundred dollars in Facebook ads could deliver a buyer’s message to thousands of viewers, whose further sharing would allow it to ripple out exponentially.

Now, turn that into $100,000 and inject it with malice. And imagine being able to target this message with minute precision: say, telling black voters in swing counties that Hillary Clinton was an incorrigible racist, or enraging white, male gun lovers with her supposed plans to roll back the Second Amendment. Imagine how quickly such misinformation could spread and metastasize.

And imagine no one knowing it was happening.

Our obliviousness is unsettling enough, but the way that our Russian adversaries used it against us positively stings. After the ad sales were revealed, Facebook’s own chief security officer, Alex Stamos, shed some light on what those purchases might have looked like. “The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate,” he wrote. “Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

In other words, the United States is so caught up in partisanship that we’ve lost our ability to keep a level head, and the whole world knows it — including our adversaries.

Americans can more consistently be relied upon to share wild-eyed rumors than to think critically on social issues. Basic civic debates have become so inflammatory that foreign actors can use them as cattle prods, sending us running mindlessly to whichever side we’re told is safe. We’re easily distracted from real facts and flock to news that confirms our biases. While the echo-chamber effect has been known for some time, the fact that it has become so dependable as a way to divide us is damning.

Russia spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads because of Americans’ known susceptibility to partisan division, our willingness to outsource the work of analysis to social-media algorithms and our tendency to not think too hard about what we see. No, the money isn’t minor. But the real problem is us. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-09-11 13:52
"Americans can more consistently be relied upon to share wild-eyed rumors than to think critically on social issues. "

This is actually more true of the Washington Post writers than it is true of Americans in general. If what this article says is true, then Mark Zuckerberg with all of his Facebook power will be president in 2020. God help us all. Going from Trump to Zuckerberg would be like going from hell to superhell.

Personally I think the news reach of Facebook is vastly overrated by this author and others whose mission in life is to pump up Facebook. People know what they are getting on Facebook. They know it is sill time. They know people post all kinds of idiotic stuff.

I actually think voters were conscientious in their choices. There were many who simply believed that Hillary or Trump was the best candidate. Given the differences in people's political beliefs they were right. The problem is that Hillary just ran a very weak campaign. Whoever decided to skip campaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Western Pennsylvania was simply stupid. That person should have been fired, but he was not. He's still works for her. His name is Robby Mook. He fucked up and Facebook had nothing to do with it.
+4 # sbessho 2017-09-11 22:10
A bit long-winded and more subtle, but it's still the typical "nothing to see here" comment. But there IS something to see here; it's not direct foreign money being spent in a US campaign organization, which is a crime, but it's close, and it needs to be addressed and prevented.
0 # Saberoff 2017-09-12 13:10
I met a fellow and his wife at a bar a while back; he was here to buy up half of Wisconsin. He told me that, back in California he is Zuckerbergs neighbor and in the middle of the night his house would shake as Obama's helicopter would land in Zuckerberg's driveway.
I don't know how serious you are about that little creep becoming president but I've heard it rumored.
+1 # DudeistPriest 2017-09-11 18:59
Once again a load of crap, unaccompanied by a shred of evidence. In fact, FB refuses to turn over any records to prove their allegations.

Funny , but just a couple days earlier Forbes published a story that FB was ripping off advertisers, claiming that they had viewers in certain age groups whose numbers exceeded the population figures for those age groups as published by the US Census. That used to be called fraud, although today it seems these digital monoliths can do any thing they damn well please.

In any case, I think the Russia BS is just an attention diversion. I don't believe a word of it.
-1 # LionMousePudding 2017-09-12 00:56
oh WaPo, your snobby/scared slip is showing! "66% of US Facebook users ADMIT they get news from the site"

Admit? I'd sure rather admit that than that I get news from WaPo. Which, of course, also has its articles shared through Facebook, which in itself makes WaPo not a real news source, right?

I flip you a virtual bird.
-2 # davehaze 2017-09-12 04:34
Absurd premise.

Like all Americans I loved Hilary Clinton then the Russians told me to hate her so I did.
-2 # davehaze 2017-09-12 04:40
This article could have been written by Andy Borowitz. Now that I think about it maybe it was.
-1 # ericlipps 2017-09-12 04:57
Ah, yes. IT'S ALL HILLARY'S FAULT. Irma too, no doubt . . . somehow.

And do you have to be reminded AGAIN that Clinton WON the popular vote? And that the vote in Wisconsin, to take just one example, was so close that it's quite believable that a small influence by social media may have tipped it? As for her not campaign in Ohio, that's either ignorance on your part or a flat lie.
0 # Saberoff 2017-09-12 12:55
I'm not a user of Facebook. And I didn't need it for my opinion of Clinton, Sanders or Trump! Just look at where we're all headed; Friending is trending.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-09-13 19:32
Hillary said it was Comey's fault. She could not say for sure if the Russians were involved. But Comey and Sanders did her in. It was not her fault.

Funny that Hillary is not blaming the electoral college as you are. Nor is she blaming republican cross checking and voter suppression which probably played in Wisconsin and some others. To me it seems as if Hillary is out to protect the establishment democratic party or the Clinton/Podesta faction that has dominated the party since the 90s. These people are the Third Way Democrats who are actually quite close to Republicans in all but name.

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