Twitter's revelation that it had identified about 200 accounts that may have broken the social media giant's terms of service and were possibly linked to nefarious activity geared toward influencing the 2016 US presidential election did not impress certain members of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee.
In a blog post, Twitter said that Colin Crowell, the company's vice president for public policy, met on 28 Septemer with the Senate and House committees to disclose what has so far been discovered in its investigation into possible trolling and tweets designed to influence the election. Crowell said Twitter looked at the 450 accounts Facebook had discovered to be problematic and found 22 of those had a corresponding Twitter account. The company then used those 20 accounts to track down another 179 that were linked or related and took action against those that violated Twitter's terms of service.
US Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) took exception to Twitter's explanation, calling it inadequate, ABC News reported.
“Their response was frankly inadequate on almost every level,” Warner said. “I'm more than a bit surprised 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 we'd asked. So there is a lot more work they need to do,” Warner said, according to ABC News.
However, Chris Olson, CEO of The Media Trust said digging out this type of information is no simple task even for a massive tech firm like Twitter or Facebook.
“The ability for Twitter and Facebook to completely disclose content planted by Russia isn't as easy as it sounds. There are two issues that need to be addressed: posts and advertising. Posts are content contributed by individuals and there's no incentive—or law—to verify the identity of these individuals, especially for a free service. The advertising front is different. An ad-supported website is incentivised to attract users, as user volume drives the value of advertising inventory.
Facebook has already committed to sharing more than 3,000 Russia-linked political ads – placed on the social network by a group called the Internet Research Agency during and after the 2016 presidential campaign – with intelligence committees in both the Senate and the House that are probing Russian meddling in the election.
Twitter also revealed to the committees that Russia Today (RT), which US intelligence believes to have ties to the Russian government, placed ads that were targeted at the American market by three RT accounts. Details on the ads were not given, but Twitter said RT spent $274,100 (£206,000) in US ads in 2016 and that Twitter handles @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT promoted 1,823 tweets that definitely or potentially targeted the US market.
Twitter reported that during the course of 2016 it came across and removed posts that tried to confuse voters or passed along incorrect information. This included a tweet that misleadingly said you could vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton via text.
“We have not found accounts associated with this activity to have obvious Russian origin, but some of the accounts appear to have been automated. We have shared examples of the content of these removed Tweets with congressional investigators,” Twitter wrote.