Just prior to and following the 2016 Presidential Election, the technology sector led us to believe that the Russians had made a massive effort to sway American voters. Given that the tech sector, particularly Google and Facebook have a business model that relies almost solely on advertising, one would think that state and non-state Russian actors would have spent untold millions of dollars on convincing us not to vote for Hillary Clinton. Recent testimony on Capitol Hill by Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai puts that myth to rest.
Here is a key excerpt from the testimony:
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D – NY) – Now, according to media reports, Google found evidence that Russian agents spent thousands of dollars to purchase ads on its advertising platforms that span multiple Google products as part of the Russian agents’ campaign to interfere in the election two years ago. Additionally, Juniper Downs, Head of Global Policy for YouTube (a Google product) testified in July that YouTube had identified and shut down multiple channels containing thousands of videos associated with the Russian misinformation campaign. Does Google now know the full extent to which its on-line platforms were exploited by Russia actors in the election two years ago?
Sundar Pichai – We have – we undertook a very thorough investigation and in 2016 we now know that there were two main ad accounts linked to Russia which, you know, advertised on Google for about $4,700 in advertising. We also found other limited….
Sundar Pichai – That’s right. Which was, you know, no amount is okay here. But we found limited activity and improper activity. We have learned a lot from that and we have dramatically increased the productions we have around our election offerings leading up to the current elections. We again found limited activity from both the Internet Research Agency in Russia as well as accounts linked to Iran.
If you wish to see the exchange for yourself, please forward to the 43 minute mark in this video:
Given Google’s global reach, the diversity of its platforms and its power to affect change, it is interesting to see that this company which touts “access and technology for everyone” benefitted from less than $5,000 in spending by Russia-linked accounts. Keeping in mind that Google/Alphabet has had two years to “navel gaze” and in that time, found that Russian spending on advertising amounted to $4,700 out of $110.885 billion in revenues and $12.662 billion in profits (2017 data), one really has to question the entire notion of Russian interference in the election through the use of social media, particularly when we know this about Alphabet’s former leader and his connections to the Clinton campaign of 2016.
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