Date
24 November 2017
Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington. Photo: Reuters
Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington. Photo: Reuters

Facebook pressured to notify people who saw Russian posts

Facebook Inc. received several tongue-lashings during US congressional hearings this week, but the world’s largest social network also got an assignment: Figure out how to notify tens of millions of Americans who might have been fed Russian propaganda, Reuters reports.

US lawmakers and some tech analysts are pressing the company to identify users who were served about 80,000 posts on Facebook, 120,000 on its Instagram picture-sharing app, and 3,000 ads that the company has traced to alleged Russian operatives, and to inform them.

The posts from Russia were designed to divide Americans, particularly around the 2016 U.S. elections, according to Facebook, US intelligence agencies and lawmakers. The Russian government has denied it tried to meddle in the elections.

“When you discover a deceptive foreign government presentation on your platform, my presumption, from what you’ve said today – you’ll stop it and take it down,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed told Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“Do you feel an obligation, in turn, to notify those people who have accessed that? And can you do that? And shouldn’t you do that?” Reed asked.

Stretch responded that he was not sure Facebook could identify the people because its estimates have relied on modeling, rather than actual counts, but he did not rule it out.

“The technical challenges associated with that undertaking are substantial,” Stretch said.

Critics of Facebook on social media and in media interviews have expressed skepticism, noting that the company closely tracks user activity such as likes and clicks for advertising purposes.

Facebook declined to comment on Thursday.

As many as 126 million people could have been served the posts on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram, according to company estimates.

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