Like it or love it, the “Russian” news meme isn't going anywhere.
Up until now, the public has only really been given heavily-spun evidence to support either the Trump or Clinton camps, and the only thing we know is that Facebook was the battlefield. This means Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is likely sitting on a treasure trove of information.
The truth is in the clicks.
People can tell you how they voted, or what kinds of stories they read, but if you could see everything they clicked on, you'd likely be surprised by what you learned. So just how effective were those Russian ads? Facebook is about to tell the public which ads they clicked on were likely bought and paid for by the Kremlin.
Facebook announced the following Wednesday:
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.
It seems this initiative exists primarily to satisfy public outcry. Zuckerberg himself has previously stated on his personal Facebook page the presidential candidates spent hundreds of millions of dollars, which, in effect, drowned out any possible outcome the Russians were attempting to create:
This was the first US election where the internet was a primary way candidates communicated. Every candidate had a Facebook page to communicate directly with tens of millions of followers every day.
Campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online to get their messages out even further. That's 1000x more than any problematic ads we've found.
He also added a nice jab that Facebook itself was the largest single voter registry in this election, registering 2 million voters:
We ran “get out the vote” efforts that helped as many as 2 million people register to vote. To put that in perspective, that's bigger than the get out the vote efforts of the Trump and Clinton campaigns put together. That's a big deal.
Facebook has largely been about giving people a voice, making them feel like what they say matters. So if that takes more transparency to show which ads were created by Russian-linked accounts, then that's what it'll do.