Senator Blasts Twitter: Presentation on Russia Influence Was ‘Inadequate on Every Level’

Mark Warner Senator

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), one of the leaders of the Senate’s investigation into Russian election interference, said that he was “deeply disappointed” in Twitter’s presentation to staffers and members of the Intelligence Committee.

The company released a statement on Thursday in which it said that its own investigation found 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.

But Warner told reporters that he found Twitter’s disclosures “inadequate on frankly every level.” He said that Twitter’s presentation, delivered in closed session, was derived from Facebook’s analysis, and that Twitter’s reliance on those results “showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it opposes to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions.”

Warner is the vice chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee has called for representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google to testify before a public hearing this fall.

Twitter representatives on Thursday also met with members of the House Intelligence Committee. Its ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also suggested that the company needed to do more to explain the full extent of Russian activity on its platform.

Schiff said in a statement that “Twitter expressed their desire to work cooperatively with the Committee’s investigation, and committed to undertaking and sharing with the Committee additional analyses beyond their initial findings.

“At this early stage in their internal review, Twitter has identified and taken remedial steps against accounts linked to Russian government actors. Much of the information that Twitter used to identify Russian-linked accounts, however, was derived from Facebook’s own analysis, and it is clear that Twitter has significant forensic work to do to understand the depth and breadth of Russian activity during the campaign,” he added. “This additional analysis will require a far more robust investigation into how Russian actors used their platform as a part of their active measures campaign and whether any of the targeting on Twitter suggests the possibility of assistance or collusion with any U.S. persons.”

Warner is working on legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would require greater disclosure for the source of online ads. At his press conference, Warner noted that some academic research shows that 10% to 15% of tweets are via fake accounts or automated bots.

He also pointed to a New York Times story showing that a number of Russian-linked accounts were spreading messages linked to the divisive issue of NFL players getting on a knee during the national anthem. That has been a protest of racial injustice, but President Donald Trump has tweeted extensively that it shows disrespect for the flag and the country.

In its statement on Thursday, Twitter said that its information release was the result of initial findings, and that they will continue their review and report back to the congressional committees.

“We will continue to work with official inquiries into these issues, and to share updates publicly as we are able,” the company said.