Twitter Bans RT and Sputnik Advertising Citing Months-Old Intelligence Report

Michael Klimentyev/SPTNK
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Twitter is barring Russian state news services Sputnik and Russia Today from advertising on its platform, the company announced on its blog Thursday. Twitter cited an intelligence community report from January pointing the finger at the two media agencies, as well as its own findings, among them that RT alone had spent $274 million on Twitter advertising in 2016. Twitter has not disclosed Sputnik’s expenditures.

Sputnik and RT can continue to use their accounts on Twitter, the company said in the announcement.

The company will donate the $1.9 million in advertising revenue it estimates it has taken from RT since 2011 to “external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections, including use of malicious automation and misinformation, with an initial focus on elections and automation,” the unattributed announcement said. That cash came almost entirely from Russia today—a source told TPM that Twitter revenue from Sputnik ads was in “the low hundreds” for 2016 and was generally much lower.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 1, less than a week away, on the role played by Twitter, Google and Facebook during Russian election interference in the 2016 election.

Jack Dorsey, the company’s co-founder and CEO, tweeted the announcement:

RT immediately hit back, saying Twitter had “pushed RT to spend big on the 2016 US election” and criticizing the company for making its investment numbers public.

Sputnik said Twitter had “refused to provide more details on the issue” and cited pressure from Congress as a reason for the move.

Earlier this week Twitter said it would roll out stricter rules for political advertisers and a “transparency center” to show users more details about the way their information is being used to show them advertisements. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who are co-sponsoring a bill to regulate political advertising on the internet, both issued statements calling the new ad rules a good “first step,” in Warner’s words, but said their bill would go forward as written regardless of Twitter’s internal guidelines.

The company announced other changes earlier this week, adding to its list of banned content “non-consensual nudity” and “hateful imagery and hate symbols.”

Twitter held its 3rd-quarter earnings call on Thursday morning. The company is as little as a single quarter away from profitability, according to its internal projections, executives told financial analysts on a conference call. Its earnings per share were impressive enough to send the stock up 14 percent.

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.
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