Facebook Will Tell Users if They Followed Russian Accounts

Posted: Nov 22, 2017 1:45 PM

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are still answering questions concerning Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election, whether or not Facebook accounts created by Russians influenced voter decision-making, and how the companies will ensure the public that future meddling will not happen again.

In a new act of transparency, Facebook will tell its users if they happened to follow Russian accounts between January 2015 and February 2017.

Facebook's newsroom put out the following statement

A few weeks ago, we shared our plans to increase the transparency of advertising on Facebook. This is part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy.

As part of that continuing commitment, we will soon be creating a portal to enable people on Facebook to learn which of the Internet Research Agency Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts they may have liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017. This tool will be available for use by the end of the year in the Facebook Help Center.

It is important that people understand how foreign actors tried to sow division and mistrust using Facebook before and after the 2016 US election. That’s why as we have discovered information, we have continually come forward to share it publicly and have provided it to congressional investigators. And it’s also why we’re building the tool we are announcing today.

Though the announcement from Facebook says users will be able to see whether or not they liked specific accounts and specific content published by those pages, it does not say anything about content that could have appeared in a person's newsfeed from pages they did not like or follow.

This information has the potential to be helpful to Democratic and Republican voter targeting organizations as they may be able to gain a greater understanding of whether or not voters could have been affected by the published content.

As has been studied by political scientists in the past and present, political campaigns have tried various ways to increase voter turnout and increase the likelihood that individuals will vote for their candidate. For example, if a campaign wants to increase the turnout for women voters, a campaign can send out mailers to a certain subset of those women and a voter targeting firm will be able to state whether women who received the mailers were more likely to vote than those who did not. In the same way, if this information, and then some, is released by Facebook, these targeting organizations may be able to identify how voters cast their ballots after being exposed to the content.

Axios reports that Facebook's statement came right on a deadline set by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) who asked the company to "individually notify any and all users who received or interacted with these advertisements and associated content."