Twitter Discloses 200 Russia-Linked Accounts, Says It Supports Political Ad Transparency

Following Facebook’s lead, Twitter disclosed the initial results of an internal investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 Presidential election with the help of its service Thursday. In a meeting with congressional investigators, and a subsequent public blog post, the company revealed that it became aware of around 200 accounts likely linked to state-sponsored Russian entities. It also disclosed that it received $274,100 in advertising revenue from Russian broadcaster RT.

In many ways, Twitter’s investigation seems to have been a direct response to Facebook’s own internal review of Russia-linked advertisers targeting U.S. users with ads designed to influence the election. “Of the roughly 450 accounts that Facebook recently shared as a part of their review, we concluded that 22 had corresponding accounts on Twitter,” the company’s global public policy team wrote Thursday.

The company then looked at other accounts linked to these 22 entities, and found an additional 179 accounts. The company “took action on the ones we found in violation of our rules,” but also noted that none of these accounts had been buying any ads on Twitter.

Twitter did receive advertising revenue from Russia Today (RT), a broadcaster with close ties to the Russian government. Three Twitter accounts controlled by RT spent a total of $274,100 on buying 1,823 ads, or promoted tweets, that targeted U.S. audiences in 2016. “These campaigns were directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories,” the policy team wrote.

The blog post also reiterated how it has been fighting spam and bots in general, but admitted that taking action against state-sponsored actors who are out to influence an election can be a lot harder than just blocking a bunch of spammy bots.

“While we have made important progress addressing spam and other forms of malicious automation on Twitter, we’ve identified new and emerging challenges dealing with non-automated content — i.e., human-directed accounts instead of bots — that coordinate their activities to spread information,” the team wrote. “It’s much trickier to identify non-automated coordination, and the risks of inadvertently silencing legitimate activity are much higher.”

Like Facebook, Twitter has been under increased scrutiny over its role in the 2016 election, with some calling for regulators to step. Facebook recently aimed to deflect such calls, highlighting how it is already stepping up its own efforts make political advertising more transparent.

Responding to this, Twitter’s public policy team wrote Thursday that it supports more transparency for political advertising on social media. And the company went even further, suggesting that there may be a role for regulators in this process as well: “We welcome the opportunity to work with the FEC and leaders in Congress to review and strengthen guidelines for political advertising on social media.”

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