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Twitter has found roughly 200 accounts believed to be tied to some of the same Russian-linked sources that purchased ads on Facebook in an attempt to provoke political tensions during 2016 presidential election.
Twitter informed congressional investigators of its findings in a series of briefings in Washington, D.C. on Thursday — and the revelations are sure to stoke further speculation on Capitol Hill that Kremlin agents sought to co-opt social media platforms to stir social and political unrest in the U.S.
The company’s inquiry appears to have started in earnest earlier this month, after Facebook said roughly 470 Russian-linked accounts had purchased 3,000 advertisements, some of which sought to stoke racial or religious discord.
Twitter checked its own database for any information related to the 470 profiles and found 22 Twitter accounts that matched. Additionally, those 22 accounts had ties to 179 other Twitter accounts, and those found in violation of Twitter rules have been suspended.
“Neither the original accounts shared by Facebook, nor the additional related accounts we identified, were registered as advertisers on Twitter,” the company said in a blog post. “However, we continue to investigate these issues, and will take action on anything that violates our Terms of Service.”
The company confirmed the details after meeting with staff on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The two panels are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Twitter’s representatives — led by Colin Crowell, its vice president of global public policy — also handed over copies of all sponsored tweets purchased by the news outlet Russia Today. The U.S. government has previously identified that network, known as RT, as a Kremlin-backed partner along with Wikileaks.
In some cases, though, congressional aides appeared disappointed with the information Twitter provided. Some on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for example, fretted Twitter had not done more, and sooner, to patrol its website for Russian misinformation, according to a source familiar with its work.
That scrutiny presages a much more grueling grilling awaiting Twitter, along with its peers at two public congressional hearings on the horizon. The House Intelligence Committee expects to invite Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify in an open session in October, aides have said, while the Senate Intelligence Committee has officially invited all three companies to appear for a Nov. 1 hearing, sources previously told Recode.
With Facebook, meanwhile, lawmakers are focused on roughly 3,000 ads purchased by Russian sources in the months before Election Day. Some of the advertisements focused on racial, religious and other social issues, and at times, they even played on both sides of an issue — advancing and opposing causes including Black Lives Matter and gun control, for example — in a bid to stir potential political unrest
In response, Facebook has pledged to adopt a number of new transparency requirements for political ads. It has pledged to turn over copies to congressional investigators. And the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has admitted that misinformation did affect discussion on Facebook.
“Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post this week. “This is too important an issue to be dismissive.”
Google, meanwhile, has faced similar questions about the ads it sells, and to whom it sells them, as well as content posted on YouTube. It briefed Senate investigators in the spring, sources previously said, and is expected to return to the Hill.
For its part, Twitter entered its meeting Thursday under pressure from the likes of Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had raised concerns that bots helped spread misinformation on its site. In response, Twitter highlighted in its blog post ways that it seeks to tackle these and other spam accounts, but the company noted it’s also contending with human-directed networks that spread falsehoods and fake news.
Going forward, Twitter also said it would make a number of changes to its platform, including “introducing new and escalating enforcements for suspicious logins, Tweets, and engagements, and shortening the amount of time suspicious accounts remain visible on Twitter while pending confirmation.”
But others, like Warner, want to subject Twitter and other social media sites to more political ad transparency requirements. The company did not comment specifically on his legislation, but added: “We welcome the opportunity to work with the FEC and leaders in Congress to review and strengthen guidelines for political advertising on social media.”