Facebook is poised to concede the full scale of a Russian-backed operation to purchase election advertising during the 2016 presidential campaign, warning that as many as 126 million Americans could have been exposed to Facebook posts authored by Russian-linked agents.
Reports suggest that Facebook counsel Colin Stretch will confirm the mammoth figure in a testimony before Congress as the fallout from the scandal continues to reverberate around Washington.
In prepared remarks obtained by the Independent, Stretch wrote: “The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society.
“That foreign actors, hiding behind fake accounts, abused our platform and other internet services to try to sow division and discord — and to try to undermine our election process — is an assault on democracy, and it violates all of our values”.
In all 470 fake accounts have been identified as having been behind the purchase of material designed to disrupt the democratic process, all of which were coordinated by the shadowy Internet Research Agency – a pro-Russian troll factory thought to be funded by an ally of president Vladimir Putin.
The latest estimates also include an increase in the number of individuals thought to have been directly exposed to propaganda adverts from 10 million to 11.4 million, with many directly linking to a further 80,000 Facebook troll posts published between 2015 and 2017 which are now thought to have been viewed by a further 126 million individuals.
It is thought that many of these posts sought to play on divisions within American society, including photographs of white police beating black citizens.
In a bid to head off political criticism, Facebook has announced a new transparency drive enabling users to view all ads while advertisers themselves must now associate their ads with a named company or group page.