By Agence France-Presse
The Russian-led effort to spread misinformation and sow discord ahead of the 2016 US election also used the social network Instagram, parent company Facebook acknowledged in Congress on Wednesday.
Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a hearing that Instagram posts by suspect Russian accounts were seen by some 20 million Americans last year.
“We now discovered, in the last 48 hours, 120,000 Russian-based posts on Instagram,” Stretch told the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
The latest data on Instagram is on top of the estimated 126 million Americans exposed to Facebook posts from Russian entities seeking to create divisions during the election campaign.
“So all told, that gets you to approximately — a little less than 150 million,” Stretch said in response to questioning from Democratic Senator Mark Warner.
The hearing was the second in Congress this week in which social media and internet firms including Google and Twitter have been called to explain how fake news and other disinformation was allowed to spread during the election campaign.
Many of the social media posts came from the Internet Research Agency, which has been linked to Russian intelligence efforts to disrupt the US election.
Twitter told lawmakers on Tuesday it found that nearly 37,000 automated “bot” accounts with Russian links generated 1.4 million tweets that were seen by a potential 288 million people in the three months before the November presidential election.
Google has found accounts linked to Russia which launched ads on YouTube, the video-sharing platform of the internet giant.
Kent Walker, the general counsel for Google, said the company would release a transparency report next year “showing data about who is buying election ads on our platform and how much money is being spent.”
Warner, who has become one of the most vocal critics of the internet firms, repeated his claim that the social media operations were misused.
“Russian operatives are attempting to infiltrate and manipulate American social media to hijack the national conversation and to make Americans angry, to set us against ourselves and, at their most basic, to undermine our democracy,” the senator said.
Republican Senator Richard Burr however downplayed the Russian role, arguing the media has blown it out of proportion.
“A lot of folks, including many in the media have tried to reduce this entire conversation to one premise; foreign actors conducted a surgical executed covert operation to help elect a United States president,” Burr told the hearing.
“I’m here to tell you this story does not simplify that easily. It is shortsighted and dangerous to selectively focus on one piece of information and think that that somehow tells the whole story.”
Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who represents California, said the internet firms “have a huge problem” to fix.
“You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it, or we will,” Feinstein told the lawyers for the companies.
Twitter general counsel Sean Edgett said the messaging platform is “troubled” by the apparent misuse by foreign actors and is working to remedy the problem.
He said less than one percent of election-related tweets people saw came from Russian-linked automated accounts but acknowledged that there were “instances where Russian-linked activity was more pronounced.”