On Thursday morning, Twitter Vice President for Public Policy Colin Crowell met with the House and Senate intelligence committees about the company's potential involvement with Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Among the information Crowell shared was that the company found around 200 accounts that seem to be linked to the same Russian groups that purchased roughly $100,000 of ads on Facebook to sway Americans and create divisions during the 2016 election. Twitter also revealed that of the 450 malicious accounts shared by Facebook, 22 had corresponding Twitter accounts. Many, Twitter said, had already been shuttered by the network.
Twitter also shared information on the Russian media organization RT after the company was singled out by intelligence agencies for its ties to the Russian government. Twitter told the committees that three RT accounts spent $274,100 on US ads in targeted US markets in 2016. Most of these accounts were "directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories," Twitter said.
RT fired back on Friday, saying "Twitter has just unveiled horrendous information in Congress – that we’ve been spending money on our advertising campaigns, just like every media organization in the world."
"Somehow it did not cross our mind that in a developed democracy, regular media advertising can be considered suspicious or detrimental activity," RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News.
While Twitter itself notes that there's plenty the company cannot share (due to security and potential exploits by bad actors), a few of the numbers it released detail the scale of the problem on the platform (of which foreign bots are part), including:
– "On average, our automated systems catch more than 3.2 million suspicious accounts globally per week — more than double the amount we detected this time last year. "
– Twitter's automated tools "catch about 450,000 suspicious logins per day."
– Twitter notes the prevalence of spam from single suspicious entities, noting that it stopped "more than 5.7 million spammy follows from a single source just last week (9/21/2017)."
– According to Twitter, since "June 2017, we’ve suspended more than 117,000 malicious applications for abusing our API, collectively responsible for more than 1.5 billion low-quality Tweets this year."
But Twitter's disclosures did not impress some lawmakers. After the meeting, Sen. Mark Warner, the lead Democrat on the Senate committee, told reporters the discussion was "deeply disappointing," calling Twitter's presentation "inadequate" in almost every way.
"The presentation that the Twitter team made to the Senate intel staff today was deeply disappointing," Warner said. "The notion that their work was basically derivative based upon accounts that Facebook had identified 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 than they offered. Their response was frankly inadequate on almost every level."
"I'm more than a bit surprised, in light of all the public interest in this subject over the last few weeks, that anyone from the Twitter team would think that the presentation they made to the Senate staff today even began to answer the kind of questions that we had asked," Warner added.
He said the need for Twitter to come before the committee in an open hearing "becomes all that more important" now.
That will likely happen soon. This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee invited Google, Facebook, and Twitter to testify in public on Nov. 1.
This post has been updated with a statement from RT.
Charlie Warzel is a Senior Technology Writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Missoula, Montana
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma Loop was a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Emma Loop at email@example.com.
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