After becoming a target of congressional inquiries this week, Twitter released new details on Thursday concerning dozens of accounts that the company says are tied to Russian propaganda efforts during the 2016 US presidential election.
In a report titled “Russian Interference in 2016 US Election, Bots, & Misinformation,” Twitter said it had concluded that, of the 450 or so accounts Facebook tied to a Russian propaganda campaign, 22 of them also had corresponding Twitter accounts. The accounts had already been or were immediately suspended after being identified, Twitter said.
“Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, which is a cornerstone for all democracies,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to strengthen Twitter against attempted manipulation, including malicious automated accounts and spam, as well as other activities that violate our Terms of Service.”
Last week, Facebook announced that it had tied at least 3,000 political ads aimed at American voters to a now-defunct Russian troll outfit known as the Internet Research Agency. Investigations by BuzzFeed and a number of Russian newspapers found that the Kremlin had directly orchestrated the Agency’s covert influence campaigns. Officially, the Internet Research Agency hasn’t been active since December 2016.
Twenty-two of the Facebook accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency—and thus the Russian government—had corresponding Twitter accounts. Armed with this knowledge, Twitter says it found an additional 179 “related or linked accounts,” of which it took action against some.
Furthermore, Twitter released new figures about US advertisements purchased by RT News (Russia Today), citing a US intelligence report released in January. The report accused RT News, which is funded by the Russian government, of being a “state-run propaganda machine,” which contributed to Kremlin-directed efforts to influence the 2016 election, occasionally by spreading “fake news” about then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to Twitter, RT News spent roughly $274,100 on ads last year and promoted 1,823 tweets that “definitely or potentially” targeted Americans. RT News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter said that in the coming weeks and months it plans to roll out changes to the way it detects “spammy or suspicious activity” and will introduce new enforcement procedures. “These are not meant to be definitive solutions,” the company wrote. “We’ve been fighting against these issues for year, and as long as there are people trying to manipulate Twitter, we will be working hard to stop them.”
Twitter executives briefed House and Senate investigators on Thursday during a closed-door meeting that lasted several hours. Twitter has been invited, along with Google and Facebook, to appear at a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee this fall.
Update 6:30 p.m.: Sen. Mark Warner, who has pushed for new regulation on online advertising, slammed Twitter’s briefing, calling it “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate on almost every level.”
Warner expressed disappointment that Twitter’s investigation seemed to stem largely from information provided by Facebook. In Twitter’s blog post, the company said that it found 22 Twitter accounts based on information Facebook shared, and that search fanned out to an “additional 179 related or linked accounts.”
“The presentation that the Twitter team made to the Senate Intel staff today was deeply disappointing. The notion that their work was basically derivative based upon accounts that Facebook had identified showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions than they offer,” Warner told reporters.
Warner is considering subpoenaing Twitter to get it to comply with the investigation, but said he would prefer to work collaboratively with the company. “Talk is cheap. What I’d like to see is a real effort to try to work with us to make sure Americans understand the nature and extent of the threat,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kate Conger.