Facebook: 10 million Americans saw Russian ads

In a blog post, Facebook has made public the details about the Russian-origin advertisements that it shared with the US Congress last month, and it turns out that just 10 million people ever saw them; while it is still a large number, it is just a fraction of the total adult/vote eligible population of the US. According to Facebook, the ads touched on divisive affairs such as LGBT and race issues as well as immigration and gun rights. Several of the ads encouraged people to follow Pages regarding these issues.

What’s been dubbed as 'Russian hacking' by the media looks as though it’s just a case of leveraging tools that Facebook provides to anyone who is willing to pay; in this instance, though, Facebook labeled the activity as “pernicious” and said the acts were against the company's rules. Those pushing the ads can decide the market they want to target the ads at and then pay Facebook based on how many ads were interacted with. In its statement, Facebook spoke about what it called an abuse of these tools, saying:

“In looking for such abuses, we examine all of the components of an ad; who created it, who it’s intended for, and what it’s message is. Sometimes a combination of an ad’s message and its targeting can be pernicious. If we find any ad – including those targeting a cultural affinity interest group – that contains a message spreading hate or violence, it will be rejected or removed. Facebook’s Community Standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, and our advertising terms are even more restrictive, prohibiting advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes.”

Some other stats Facebook provided pertaining to the ads include that 44% of total ad impressions (number of times ads were displayed) were before the US election on November 8, 2016; 56% were after the election. Roughly 25% of the ads were never displayed to anyone, Facebook put this down to their irrelevance to users. Lastly, $3 was spent on 50% of the ads; and for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

This information really highlights a key point in this ongoing saga; a differentiation should be made between hacking and interfering. In this case, there was no hacking involved, it was just ads being bought through an ad platform; some may have infringed Facebook’s rules, but it certainly isn’t hacking, at least in this particular case.

Source: Facebook Newsroom

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