Twitter reveals thousands of Russia-backed ads ahead of last year’s US presidential election

News service RT spent US$274,000 in 2016 on ads posted on the social media platform, which may have been used to try to influence the US election

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 5:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 7:50pm

Twitter has revealed that nearly 2,000 ads were placed on the messaging service in 2016 by a Russian media group suspected of trying to interfere with the US presidential election.

A Twitter statement late on Thursday in the US said the social media company shared data with congressional investigators about ads from RT, a television group with links to the Moscow government.

Twitter said RT spent US$274,000 in 2016 on 1,823 Twitter ads that may have been used to try to influence the US election.

The news comes after Facebook acknowledged foreign entities linked to Russia paid to promote political messages on the leading social network, potentially violating US election laws.

A blog post by Twitter said its vice-president for public policy, Colin Crowell, met staff on Thursday from two congressional panels investigating Russian interference in the election process.

“This is an ongoing process and we will continue to collaborate with investigators,” the statement said.

Russia threatens to ban social media giant Facebook in 2018

Twitter said it examined efforts by foreign agents to interfere with the election after Facebook indicated it found 450 accounts that appeared to have been used for this purpose.

We have not found accounts associated with this activity to have obvious Russian origin
Statement from Twitter vice-president Colin Crowell

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

“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.”

The statement added that RT’s ads “definitely or potentially targeted the US market”.

“These campaigns were directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT tweets regarding news stories.

“We are concerned about violations of our terms of service and US law with respect to interference in the exercise of voting rights,” the statement said.

Twitter said that during the election campaign, it removed tweets “that were attempting to suppress or otherwise interfere with the exercise of voting rights, including the right to have a vote counted, by circulating intentionally misleading information”.

Twitter said some of the ads, or promoted tweets, aimed to deceive voters by telling them they could “text to vote”, which has no basis in fact.

“We have not found accounts associated with this activity to have obvious Russian origin, but some of the accounts appear to have been automated,” the statement said.

Earlier this month, Facebook said it would turn over data on some 3,000 ads bought by a Russian entity that appeared to inflame political divisions during the campaign. About US$100,000 was spent on the Facebook ads.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner called Twitter’s presentation “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate”.

Warner said: “[Twitter’s data was] basically derivative based on accounts that Facebook had identified [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.”