Speed Reads

the russia connection

Twitter says it shut down accounts linked to Russian operatives

Twitter announced Thursday that it found and has shut down 201 accounts linked to the same Russian operatives who bought political ads on Facebook in an attempt to deepen political divisions in the United States.

Three accounts were from the Kremlin-backed news site RT, which spent $274,100 in ads on Twitter during the 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post reports. Twitter made presentations to Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee staffers on Thursday, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he didn't think the company was doing enough to keep Russian operatives from meddling in U.S. affairs and "showed an enormous lack of understanding ... about how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions."

The government is investigating how during last year's presidential campaign, Russian operatives used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to spread false information and sow discord in the United States; earlier this week, the Post reported that some of the 3,000 Facebook ads bought by Russians promoted Black Lives Matter in Ferguson and other places that saw unrest following police shootings involving black men, while in other areas, they purchased targeted ads saying BLM was a threat.

It's very easy to start a fake Twitter account, so it's unclear how many are run by Russian operatives, and Twitter estimates that about 5 percent of accounts are automated bots. "They have no idea who is on their platform," Clint Watts, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Post. "If it wasn't for Facebook's data, they would have no idea these were even Russian accounts. Anyone can create an account anonymously on Twitter and hide its origin."