Twitter Discovers Russian Bots Attempted To Sow Political Discord

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Just days after Facebook announced it discovered that a Russian group spent $100,000 to post politically divisive advertisements, Twitter turned over information to congress. They revealed that Russia Today, the state-run paper, spent $274k to promote similarly divisive political ads.

Colin Crowell, Twitter’s vice president for public policy, met with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to divulge what was uncovered.

The social media site said it discovered three accounts, all linked to RT, which had spent the money throughout the 2016 year. Twitter also said it found that election scams had been included in the posted content.

On Thursday, Twitter’s public policy account said it would “continue to strengthen Twitter against attempted manipulation, including malicious automated accounts and spam.”

In early September, Facebook released a blog post detailing how it discovered 470 accounts that were linked to each other and which apparently originated from Russia. Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said the website has shut down the accounts and shared its findings with U.S. authorities.

“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform. We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws,” Stamos wrote in the blog post.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post found that some of the 3,000 advertisements posted on Facebook by Russian accounts leaned politically left, such as posts advertising Black Lives Matter that were aimed at populations in Ferguson and Baltimore. Others, apparently aimed at right-wing audiences, promoted the significance of the second amendment or content about Muslim support for Hillary Clinton to instill fear in conservative viewers.

Earlier in the year, the New York Times reported that Russian operators had flooded Twitter with right-wing bots posting content against Hillary Clinton. The infamous leakers GucciMane and DCLeaks were both also created by Russian intelligence bypassing mail server security, suggesting the social media accounts were part of a robust plan to effect political division in the United States.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Vermont, said Twitter’s presentation was “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate on almost every level,” according to The Washington Post. The senator said Twitter’s presentation showed the company failed to understand the significance of the advertisements or “the threat it posts to democratic institutions.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the public is only aware of a subset of Russian online activities, according to the New York Times. In addition, he concurred with Warner’s assessment that Twitter did not fully appreciate the significance of the information they presented.

In a PBS interview, Warner said he didn’t think the company had a full grasp of the actions taking place on the site. “I don’t think they fully know whether there was paid advertising that was using a pseudonym, and, perhaps even more significant, the extent of Russian bots that were used to propagate information in the campaign,” he said.