Russians coordinated across Twitter and Facebook in an effort to influence the 2016 U.S. election, a new revelation that highlights the aggression and complexity of its propaganda campaign.
Twitter revealed in a blog post on Thursday that it had discovered about 200 accounts linked to Russia and that 22 of them appeared to be from the same entities that shared fake news and memes on Facebook. Twitter also met with congressional investigators to discuss Russian activity on its platform.
Twitter shared the ads purchased by the news site Russia Today, which is linked to the Russian government. Twitter reported RT spent $274,100 in U.S. ads in 2016 that promoted 1,823 tweets.
“These campaigns were directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories,” Twitter’s blog post reads.
This development comes more than a month after Facebook revealed it found 450 profiles linked to Russia that had spent roughly $100,000 on 3,000 ads. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has faced growing scrutiny for its role in influencing the 2016 election and has been working to cooperate with the government over the Russia investigation.
But it wasn’t just Facebook, and now there’s proof.
“All of those identified accounts had already been or immediately were suspended from Twitter for breaking our rules, most for violating our prohibitions against spam,” Twitter’s blog post reads.
While Twitter’s user base of 328 million monthly active users is much smaller than Facebook’s 2 billion users, the platform still has massive reach. Accounts can spam hundreds of thousands of users and send millions of tweets, as BuzzFeed‘s Charlie Warzel notes.
RT, specifically, has been under increased scrutiny for its ties to the Russian government. The Department of Justice sent a letter to a division of the company that said it was required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, CNN reported.
Sen. Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described Twitter’s presentation Thursday as “deeply disappointing,” according to NBC News.
The scale could be much bigger as well, as predicted by CNN’s Dylan Byers and previously by Warner.
I cannot stress how little Facebook, Twitter have disclosed re Russian-linked accounts, ads vs. what’s likely out there. Tip of the tip.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) September 28, 2017
The revelations on Russian’s interference in the 2016 election across social platforms have motivated calls for action by lawmakers to impose more regulation of digital advertising. Twitter, for its part, said it supports “making political advertising more transparent to our users and the public.” But it has not announced plans to do anything on its own, BuzzFeed reported earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg said his company will begin self-regulating and publicly reveal all ads shown to users.
Twitter declined to share more information on the record.
“Due to the nature of these inquiries, we may not always be able to publicly share what we discuss with investigators. And there will always be tools or methods we cannot talk about, because doing so would only help bad actors circumvent them,” Twitter’s blog post reads.
The Senate Intelligence Committee invited Twitter, Facebook, and Google to testify in an open hearing about how foreign actors may have leveraged their platforms to influence the 2016 election. That hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1.
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