Twitter is the latest social media platform to meet with lawmakers about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter told lawmakers it found some 200 accounts linked to the same Russian groups that bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook to sow political unrest and manipulate U.S. voters during the presidential election.
The Twitter accounts, which were taken down over the last month, were linked to 470 accounts and pages that Facebook traced to the International Research Agency, an entity known as a troll farm that unleashes fake social media accounts to stir controversy and conflict.
The groups on Facebook had 22 Twitter accounts, according to a blog post released by Twitter on Thursday after briefing staffers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees behind closed doors. Twitter found an additional 179 accounts connected to those 22.
Twitter’s presentation on Capitol Hill drew sharp criticism from a key senator who accused the social media company of not being aggressive enough in probing Russian interference in the election.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, told reporters that the presentation was “inadequate on almost every level” and 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 answered.”
Twitter declined to comment on Warner’s remarks.
Twitter also shared information with lawmakers on Russian news outlet Russia Today, or RT, which has ties to the Kremlin, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Three RT accounts spent $274,100 targeting U.S. markets with ads in 2016, according to Twitter. Twitter said that most of these accounts were “directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories.”
Russia Today is one of the websites whose content is regularly promoted by a network of Russia-linked Twitter accounts that spreads disinformation, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund.
Twitter, which has been accused of not doing enough to police fake accounts, pledged Thursday to step up enforcement.
It did not mention research conducted by third parties that identified more suspected Russian activity than Twitter itself has.
Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller are widening their probes of the role Russia played in the spread of misinformation and divisive political ads on social media and whether anyone in the U.S. aided in targeting Americans.
Facebook, Google and Twitter are under increasing pressure to investigate Russian meddling on their services. Recent revelations on Russian operatives using those platforms have led to calls for regulations that could undercut their advertising businesses.
Facebook has come under harsh scrutiny over its disclosure that Russians bought thousands of ads to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential election. It’s turning those ads over to congressional investigators.
Citing two sources close to the matter, a Russian-linked account used both Facebook and Twitter to “amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election,” a CNN report said Thursday night. The social media campaign, which called itself “Blacktivist,” “regularly shared content intended to stoke outrage” and “posted videos of police violence against African Americans,” according to the CNN report.
The CNN report adds that the Twitter account was handed over to Congress, while the Facebook page is expected to be handed over soon.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for saying it was “pretty crazy” that fake news could have influenced the U.S. election.
“Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive,” he wrote.
Thursday marked Twitter’s turn in the Capitol Hill spotlight to answer questions about last year’s Russian influence campaign. Twitter executives gave closed-door presentations to members and staff of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
The two intelligence panels, along with the Senate Judiciary Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s election. Mueller and the congressional investigators also are looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The U.S. intelligence community, in a report released in January, concluded that Russia was trying to sway the election in favor of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
After Thursday’s briefing, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Twitter’s internal investigation has a ways to go in identifying and barring accounts linked to “Russian government actors.” Much of the information that Twitter used to identify Russian-linked accounts came from Facebook, he noted.
“It is clear that Twitter has significant forensic work to do to understand the depth and breadth of Russian activity during the campaign,” Schiff said in a statement. “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.”
Disinformation campaigns converged on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election, according to an Oxford University study released this week. It found that Twitter users got more “misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content” than news from professional sources during the election, with even higher levels of false reports in swing states.
The House and Senate panels have invited Facebook, Google and Twitter to appear at public hearings this fall. The House Intelligence panel announced earlier this week that it will hold a public hearing sometime in October. An exact date has not been set. The Senate Intelligence Committee will have its own public hearing with tech executives on Nov. 1.