Facebook has announced the creation of a new portal that will allow users to see what dubious pages created by Russian operatives they may have followed, liked or interacted with during the 2016 US presidential election. The new tool will be available via its "Help Center" by the end of the year.
The portal will allow users to see the ads, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts created by the infamous Kremlin-linked troll farm Internet Research Agency that they have liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017. The group reportedly used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to post politically divisive content and misinformation designed to sow discord and influence political opinion during the 2016 election.
About 150 million users on Facebook and Instagram were exposed to the Russian content. On Election Day alone on 8 November 2016, about 10 million people saw the Russian-bought ads on Facebook, the social media firm said.
"It is important that people understand how foreign actors tried to sow division and mistrust using Facebook before and after the 2016 US election," the company said in a statement. "That's why as we have discovered information, we have continually come forward to share it publicly and have provided it to congressional investigators."
The announcement comes after prodding by lawmakers and critics urging Facebook to give users a clearer understanding of whether or not they were exposed to Russia's disinformation campaign and how.
In January, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a complex influence campaign, which included cyberattacks, leaks, misinformation campaigns and more, to undermine American democracy, harm Hillary Clinton's campaign and help Donald Trump win the election.
Facebook, Twitter and Google were recently grilled by Congress over the role their platforms and technology played in Russian operatives' efforts to influence the election. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also called on the tech giants to alert consumers if they were exposed to the Russian-purchased content or ads.
"Do you not also have an obligation to let those folks know that that was a hoax, that — or at least inform them who was behind that sponsored advertisement," Representative Terri Sewell asked Facebook's general counsel Colin Stretch during the November hearing.
Stretch said that Facebook has attempted to notify users about the issue "broadly" through information published on their website including a white paper and a hard questions blog.
"It's a much more challenging issue to identify and notify reliably people who may have been exposed to this content on an individual basis," Stretch told congressional investigators.
Congress recently released a sample of the divisive Russia-bought Facebook ads that covered a range of hot topics including immigration, LGBTQ rights, race relations, Islamaphobia, police brutality and gun control. Some specifically election-focused ads criticised Clinton and pitted her as Satan in a fight with Jesus.
Representative Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, said in a statement:
"During our open hearing with Facebook, Twitter and Google earlier this month, we asked them to notify their users if they had been targeted by or seen content as part of the Russian active measures campaign. The move by Facebook to allow users to see if they liked or followed pages created by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency is a very positive step.
"We look forward to additional steps by the companies to improve transparency with respect to Russian abuse of their platforms, and urge them to furnish a joint report on how Russia used these platforms to sow discord and influence the election."