When it comes to Facebook, Russia’s $100,000 is worth more than you think
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.
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.
MAKE MARK ZUCKERBERG TESTIFY
LAST WEEK, after what must have been a series of extremely grim meetings in Menlo Park, Facebook admitted publicly that part of its revenue includes what appears to be politically-motivated fraud undertaken by a shady Russian company. The social network, perhaps motivated by a Washington Post scoop on the matter, released a statement outlining the issues at hand, but leaving the most important questions unanswered. Only Facebook knows these answers, and we should assume they won’t be eager to volunteer them.
After last week’s reports, Facebook received a round of emails and calls from reporters asking for clarifications on the many glaring gaps in the social network’s disclosure:
What was the content of the Russian-backed ads in question?
How many people saw these ads? How many people clicked them?
What were the Facebook pages associated with the ads? How many members did they have?
What specific targeting criteria (race, age, and most importantly, location) did the Russian ads choose?
Given that Facebook reaches a little under 30% of the entire population of our planet, the answers to these questions matter.