How did they do it, and is it still happening?
Twitter took to Capitol Hill Thursday, sharing its insight into the Russian interference that took place during the 2016 presidential election in a closed door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee. And after the discussion of fake news, Russian accounts, and bots on President Trump’s favorite social network ended, Twitter updated the public on its efforts to get to the bottom of the abuses of its systems.
The biggest news in their disclosure was that Twitter, working alongside Facebook, identified more than 200 fake accounts, which it is has since suspended. Twenty-two of the accounts had presences on both social networks. But the public reckoning also left out important details that will have both the site’s users and political activists undoubtedly wanting to know more.
“Due to the nature of these inquiries, we may not always be able to publicly share what we discuss with investigators,” said the company in its blog post. “We know there is a huge appetite for more transparency into how Twitter fights bots and manipulative networks.”
In addition to the more than 200 accounts it banned for violation of the company’s terms of service, Twitter also revealed the extent to which Russian government-linked media outlet RT used the social network’s ad platform to amplify its messages on the site. RT accounts spent $274,100 on U.S.-targeted Twitter ads in 2016, promoting 1,823 tweets about news stories towards users who follow of mainstream media accounts. Twitter did not reveal which news topics RT’s ads targeted.
Much of Twitter’s update on Russian interference actually highlighted the progress the social network has made since the election, specifically in detecting and blocking fake accounts and bots. Twitter says its systems catch more than 3.2 suspicious accounts per week (double the amount of last year) and 450,000 suspect logins per day.
However the company admitted its future fight may not be with bots as much as with human users.”When large numbers of human-directed accounts act in coordinated fashion, it can have an effect similar to that of spam,” the company said. “It’s much trickier to identify non-automated coordination, and the risks of inadvertently silencing legitimate activity are much higher.”
Also notably missing from Twitter’s update Thursday was any mention of the recent Twitter-fueled controversy of standing or taking a knee for the U.S. national anthem. According to Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee—the body that Twitter met with—Russian troll farms are responsible for sparking this controversy in recent weeks. Twitter has not commented on that statement, Lankford has not provided any evidence to corroborate his claim.