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Twitter Suspends Accounts Linked To Alleged Russian Election Meddling


Twitter has said that one Russian media outlet close to the Kremlin spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on Twitter advertisements aimed at the U.S. market during 2016. (file photo)

Twitter says it has suspended about 200 Russia-linked accounts and found nearly 2,000 ads placed by Russia's RT television group in its investigation of Moscow's alleged efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election through social media.

Twitter executives briefed the intelligence committees in the U.S. Congress on September 28 about the findings.

The company said in an online blog that it identified and removed 22 Twitter accounts which directly corresponded to some 450 fake Facebook accounts identified by Facebook as being tied to Russia's alleged election meddling.

"Of the roughly 450 accounts that Facebook recently shared as part of their review, we concluded that 22 had corresponding accounts on Twitter," the blog said.

It said the identified Twitter accounts were suspended mostly for breaking Twitter's rules against spam -- that is, flooding the Internet with many copies of the same message or links.

Twitter added that it unearthed an additional 179 "related or linked accounts" with ties to the fake Russian Facebook accounts. It said most of those suspect Twitter accounts were suspended for violating the company's rules.

Twitter said Russian media outlet RT, a state-funded broadcaster that is close to the Kremlin, spent $274,100 on Twitter advertisements and promoted 1,823 tweets aimed at the U.S. market during the election year.

Those ad buys topped the $100,000 that Facebook said it discovered on its network that were linked to a Russian propaganda operation during the 2016 election campaign, a revelation that prompted calls from U.S. legislators for more regulation of such social media advertising.

'Scratched The Surface'

RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan defended RT's purchase of advertisements on Twitter, seemingly seeking to distance RT from suggestions that it may be linked to state-supported social media campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion in the West.

Simonyan said on September 29 that RT's advertising purchases on Twitter were a standard commercial practice that was being falsely presented as Russian meddling in U.S. affairs, state-run news agency RIA reported.

"Now we have to go even further and admit sincerely," Simonyan said sarcastically. "We spent on ads in airports, taxis, on billboards, the Internet, TV, and radio as well. Our commercials were even broadcast on CNN."

But some U.S. lawmakers say Twitter's disclosures and the steps it took to address the potential problem with alleged Russian meddling efforts did not go far enough.

"I don't think we've more than scratched the surface in terms of our understanding of how the Russians may have used [the Twitter] platform," said Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

U.S. Democratic Senator Mark Warner (Virginia)
U.S. Democratic Senator Mark Warner (Virginia)

"Frankly I don’t think they understand how serious this problem is," Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted.

Lawmakers in both parties have said they suspect social networks played a big role in what they describe as Moscow's attempts to spread propaganda, sow political discord in the United States, and help elect President Donald Trump. Moscow denies any such activity.

Warner is leading efforts in the Senate to introduce legislation requiring internet platforms to reveal who is purchasing online political ads, which would bring them in line with rules governing ads on radio or television.

Twitter said it wants to strengthen its disclosure rules on political advertising, as Facebook recently did.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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