Twitter Tells Congress It Shut Down 200 Accounts Linked to Russia

Twitter told the House and Senate intelligence committees Thursday that it had shut down more than 200 accounts after determining they were linked to Russia and sought to interfere in U.S. politics.

The closed-door sessions followed similar briefings earlier this month with Facebook, which has also agreed to provide lawmakers with 3,000 Russia-linked ads involving divisive social and political issues that were placed on its platform.

The committees are examining the spread of false news stories and whether anyone in the United States aided in targeting content to certain users. In the case of Twitter, that includes examining so-called bot accounts that are set up to quickly and automatically spread information.

“Of the roughly 450 accounts that Facebook recently shared as a part of their review, we concluded that 22 had corresponding accounts on Twitter. All of those identified accounts had already been or immediately were suspended from Twitter for breaking our rules,” Twitter announced in a blog post Thursday afternoon. “In addition, from those accounts we found an additional 179 related or linked accounts, and took action on the ones we found in violation of our rules.”

Twitter also said the Russian news site RT spent $274,100 in ads on its platform in 2016.

But despite the disclosures, ranking lawmakers said they were disappointed in Twitter’s handling of the issues.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California said, “Much of the information that Twitter used to identify Russian-linked accounts, however, was derived from Facebook’s own analysis, and it is clear that Twitter has significant forensic work to do to understand the depth and breadth of Russian activity during the campaign.”

Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said the company “showed an enormous lack of understanding … about how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions.”

The meetings with technology companies have so far been closed to the public, but both the House and Senate intelligence committees are planning to hold public hearings about the use of online tools in connection with efforts to influence the election.

The committees have invited Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to appear, with the House panel planning to hold its hearing in October and the Senate committee in early November.

In a report earlier this year, U.S. intelligence agencies said it was their assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign aimed at the U.S. election in order to boost Donald Trump’s chance of winning the presidency while hurting the campaign of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Trump has expressed skepticism of the conclusion. In July, he said, “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific.”

The president, who has frequently criticized the media, on Wednesday used Twitter to suggest Facebook worked with television news companies and top U.S. newspapers to work against him during the election.

“Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a response to Trump’s tweet.

“After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea,” Zuckerberg added. “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive. But the data we have has always shown that our broader impact — from giving people a voice to enabling candidates to communicate directly to helping millions of people vote — played a far bigger role in this election.”

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