Twitter IDs Nearly 200 Russia-Linked Accounts, Says RT Bought $274K In Ads

**HOLD FOR STORY S HALL** Show is a Twitter mobile phone icon in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/AP
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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

In an unattributed statement on the company blog published Thursday afternoon, Twitter disclosed that it had identified nearly 200 accounts associated with the same Facebook pages that were part of a Russian troll farm’s $100,000 ad buy on that platform.

Twitter said it had searched for accounts associated with the “roughly 450” Facebook pages shared as part of that company’s review. Twitter found 22 accounts that directly corresponded to the Russian Facebook accounts, and then found 179 others associated with those Twitter users.

Facebook shared those accounts directly with Twitter, TPM has learned; Congress still does not have the ads Facebook promised to share with elected officials, though those ads are expected by Monday.

“Neither the original accounts shared by Facebook, nor the additional related accounts we identified, were registered as advertisers on Twitter,” the statement read. “However, we continue to investigate these issues, and will take action on anything that violates our Terms of Service.”

The statement came after Twitter representatives met investigators from the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Alongside Facebook, Twitter is at the center of both congressional and federal inquiries into the Trump campaign’s role, if any, in Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The social media company also said in the statement that Kremlin-backed news outlet RT purchased $274,000 in advertisements in 2016. It’s unclear how that figure compares to RT’s spending on Twitter in other years, or how it compares to Twitter ad budgets at news organizations of similar size.

“In [2016], the @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT accounts promoted 1,823 Tweets that definitely or potentially targeted the U.S. market,” the Twitter statement’s authors wrote. “These campaigns were directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories.”

RT undertook a major expansion into the United States in 2013, and since the election it has been the subject of intensifying scrutiny, first from an official assessment by the US intelligence community and more recently directly from the DOJ, which has asked the organization to register as a foreign agent.

Executives from the company presented their findings to Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Thursday afternoon. Intelligence Vice-chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said he was unimpressed that Twitter’s research was “based on accounts that Facebook had identified” rather than a proactive review of their user base.

Other figures Twitter provided in the statement painted a picture of a social media platform under seige: The microblogging service said it blocks some 130,000 attempts to artificially promote hashtags to its “trending topics” category each day, in addition to 450,000 suspicious other logins daily. The company also said it had identified and suspended 117,000 programs that were abusing its proprietary interface to send “low-quality tweets.” Those programs had already tweeted 1.5 billion times in 2017.

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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