Twitter officials are in Washington, D.C. today as the social media service takes its turn under congressional scrutiny over social media’s role in Russia’s alleged attempts to influence U.S. voters ahead of the 2016 election.
Officials from the company are meeting with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss how Russian-linked Twitter accounts might have tried to influence last year’s presidential election by posing as Americans, spreading misinformation, and also using “bot” accounts to post automated messages promoting stories covering Democratic party emails obtained by Russian hackers. As The New York Times reported on Thursday, Russia’s alleged influence campaign during the 2016 election might have depended even more on Twitter as a social media platform than its rival, Facebook.
Facebook just recently said it would provide details to Congress on the ads the social networking giant sold to Russian operatives in the lead-up to last year’s election, and the Senate Intelligence Committee will also look to speak soon with Facebook officials about the spread of bot accounts and fake news on the service. In a live announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would share with Congress the thousands of “dark posts” from the Russian ad-buyers’ accounts in order to provide more transparency and also to shed some light on how Russian operatives might have worked to influence U.S. voters. (The move also came after Robert Mueller, the Russia investigation’s special prosecutor, executed a search warrant that would give him a look at Facebook’s ad sales.)
Congress has also reached out to Google asking that executives at the online search giant come to Capitol Hill before Nov. 1 to discuss Russian interference. Google said earlier this month that it has no evidence of Russian propaganda on its own advertising platforms.
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While the debate still rages over just how much, if at all, Russia’s campaign might have boosted Donald Trump’s chances at winning the White House, Politico reported that Russian-linked Facebook ads supported Hillary Clinton’s Democratic challenger, Bernie Sanders, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as Trump’s own campaign. And social media posts originating in Russia reportedly continue to pop up on Facebook and Twitter, along with other services, featuring inflammatory messages related to various controversial current topics, including the debate over protesting NFL players.
For the most part, Twitter (TWTR) has been silent on the matter of Russian influence via social media, which has earned the company some criticism. Now, federal lawmakers are keen on learning more about how Twitter, Facebook (FB), and Google (GOOGL) go about selling political ads, with many calling for those companies to face the same sort of transparency rules placed upon other media companies—such as TV and radio broadcasters—especially considering growing reach of social media. Google and other online ad sellers (including Facebook and Twitter) have also faced criticism for selling ads targeting people who search for racist terms.
Meanwhile, as Twitter meets with Congress, the company also remains under fire from critics who feel that the president’s use of the platform could be dangerous, particularly as Trump posts inflammatory messages that can be interpreted as threats to enemy states such as North Korea. Earlier this week, Twitter’s global public policy team defended the service’s policy to allow Trump to tweet messages that might otherwise violate the company’s terms of service, calling the president’s tweets “newsworthy.”
The company also continues to face criticism over the effectiveness of its efforts to weed out fake users (unlike Facebook, you don’t need to give your real name to sign up for a Twitter account) and to curb online harassment.