From The Editors Politics

Twitter Acknowledges Russian Misinformation More Extensive Than Initially Reported

In what it calls an update of its review of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter has revealed that there were more accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – the Russian propaganda machine – than what they had initially identified and reported.

In its October testimony before the Congress, Twitter representatives had said that 2,700 IRA-linked accounts were directly affiliated with Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

The company now says that it has found an additional 1,062 accounts linked to the Russian agency and has suspended all them for Terms of Service breach.

“We have identified an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA. We have suspended all of these accounts for Terms of Service violations, primarily spam, and all but a few accounts, which were restored to legitimate users, remain suspended.  At the request of congressional investigators, we are also sharing those account handles with Congress,” said Twitter in the Friday blog post.

Twitter investigations have revealed that the 3,814 accounts linked to the Russian troll farm, thus far, posted a total of 175,993 Tweets out of which about 8.4 percent were directly related to the election in question.

Twitter has also pledged that it would email 677,775 users in the United States who followed, liked, or retweeted posts from any of these offending accounts as, what the company claims, is “consistent” with its “commitment to transparency.”

“Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available,” reads the post.

On Wednesday, Twitter’s public policy director Carlos Monje announced that the company has formed a task force to tackle such issues, if any, during the November midterm elections. He said that Twitter was working on improving its algorithm in order to better identify fake accounts and election-related hoaxes and that the company would work in tandem with federal and state election officials to monitor problems.

Twitter said that it had also identified an additional 13,512 accounts linked to Russia that are bots posing as real users and had been tweeting election-related posts.

The overall 50,258 automated accounts that the company has identified so far as Russian-linked bots that had been sending out these tweets during the 2016 election represented just 0.016% of all Twitter accounts at the time.

“However any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue,” reassures Twitter.

Democrat Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who has been pretty vocal against Twitter and other tech companies calling for more transparency, tweeted his appreciation of Twitter’s proactive approach, on Friday.

“I’ve been tough with Twitter on this, but I’m encouraged to see the company beginning to take responsibility and notify its users of Russia’s influence campaign on its platform,” he wrote.

Don’t forget that Twitter, Facebook and even Google have been on the receiving end of some hard criticism, for some time now, for the role they played in the outcome of the 2016 election by encouraging fake news and propaganda on their social networking platforms.

“I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news,” Zuckerberg had said at the time. “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”

In November 2016, Google had also assured that the company was taking steps to disallow websites that “misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose.”

In a Facebook post in December 2016, Zuckerberg wrote that his company was incorporating meaningful measures to do away with hoaxes and fake news on the site. Speaking broadly about the strategy, he had written:

“Today we’re making it easier to report hoaxes, and if many people report a story, then we’ll send it to third-party fact-checking organizations. If the fact checkers agree a story is a hoax, you’ll see a flag on the story saying it has been disputed, and that story may be less likely to show up in News Feed. You’ll still be able to read and share the story, but you’ll now have more information about whether fact checkers believe it’s accurate. No one will be able to make a disputed story into an ad or promote it on our platform.”

About the Internet Research Agency (IRA)

The IRA is a Saint Petersburg-based Russian company that runs a kind of online warfare on behalf of the Russian government, employing the services of thousands of paid bloggers.

The agency’s function is to influence domestic and foreign policies of countries where Russia has an interest, including Gulf countries, Ukraine and the United States.

The IRA has been involved in creating fake accounts on major social media platforms, online news sites, etc. to conduct its government-sponsored nefarious activities, and is believed to have played a telling part in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

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