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Russia’s election posts reached 126 million people, Facebook will tell Congress

Russia’s surreptitious campaign to meddle in the US election reached 126 million people through posts on the social network, according to prepared testimony obtained by The Verge. That figure, which is more than 10 times the number of people reportedly exposed to Russia-linked advertising on the site, indicates that more than half of US Facebook users saw Russia-linked posts in the months leading up to the election.

The figures are disclosed in prepared testimony scheduled to be delivered Tuesday by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing. “The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society,” the testimony says. “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.”

The testimony says that 29 million people were directly served 80,000 posts linked to Russian actors between January 2015 and August 2017. Likes, shares, and comments on those posts delivered them to the additional 97 million people. Facebook has 213 million monthly users in the United States.

The activity was not limited to Facebook — the company also will testify that it deleted 170 Instagram accounts, which posted about 120,000 pieces of content. The testimony does not say how many people were reached by the Instagram posts.

Facebook previously disclosed that 10 million people saw ads purchased by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency. The company has said it will introduce new tools intended to identify the buyers of political advertising and make the ads available for public inspection.

In his testimony, Stretch plans to lay out Facebook’s plans for addressing future attempts at foreign election meddling, including new tools designed to purge inauthentic accounts and adding 1,000 new employees to review political ads manually.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Google will testify it found 18 channels “likely associated” with Russian agents who posted political videos to YouTube. Google has suspended the accounts, which uploaded more than 1,100 videos between 2015 and 2017, according to the Times. The vast majority of the videos had low view counts, with only 3 percent having more than 5,000 views, the report said.

Stretch’s testimony is scheduled to take place at 2:30PM ET, and will be carried live on CSPAN-3 and on CSPAN’s Facebook page.

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