Today, I received an email from Twitter informing me that during the 2016 U.S. presidential election it had taken actions to control illegal activities.
The letter stated that it had identified thousands of fake accounts relating to the 2016 elections originating from Russia and some of the biggest offenders here and abroad. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
“Twitter had identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing you because we have reason to believe that you either followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked content from these accounts during the election period. This is purely for your own information purposes and is not related to a security concern for your account.We are sharing this information so that you can learn more about these accounts and the nature of the Russian propaganda effort. You can see examples of content from these suspended accounts on our blog if you’re interested.
People look to Twitter for useful, timely, and appropriate information. We are taking active steps to stop malicious accounts and Tweets from spreading, and we are determined to keep ahead of the tactics of bad actors. For example, in recent months we have developed new techniques to identify accounts manipulating our platform, have improved our process for challenging suspicious accounts, and have introduced new measures designed to identify and take action on coordinated malicious activity. In 2018, we are building on these improvements. Our blog also contains more information about these efforts.
People come to Twitter to see what’s happening in the world. We are committed to making it the best place to do that and to being transparent with the people who use and trust our platform.”
So what does it means? What steps were taken by Twitter?
For starters, Twitter is committing to transparency and is sharing the results of their retroactive investigation into activity related to the election.
The company said, “At the time of the 2016 election, we observed and acted on instances of automated and malicious activity. As we learned more about the scope of the broader problem, we resolved to strengthen our systems going forward. Elections continue all the time, so our first priority was to do all we could to block and remove malicious activity from interfering with our users’ experience. We created dedicated teams within Twitter to enhance the quality of the information our users see and to block malicious activity whenever and wherever we find it.” During the review, Twitter identified that a third of one percent of the election-related Tweets people saw came from Russian-linked automated accounts. However, Twitter observed,”instances where Russian-linked activity was more pronounced.”
Twitter banned by Russia Today and Sputnik Advertising to purchase advertising on the network, banned their accounts and seven small accounts was related to the election and violated either the policies in effect at the time or that have since been implemented.
It also has committed to donate the revenue generated by these advertisers to “academic research” into the use of Twitter during elections and for civic engagement. Twitter doesn’t specify what specific research will benefit from its donation and hasn’t responded to our query for clarification yet.
Since it presented its finding to Congress last October, Twitter has continued its research and analysis to better identify patterns of abuse and signals in data.
As part of their updates in tacking the problem and preventing from happening it commits to first,
Inform People of Malicious Activity in the 2016 Election.
Just like the email I received this morning, 677,775 notifications were sent to people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period.
Educate How to Recognize IRA accounts
Twitter said that most user engagements concentrated to a small number of IRA-associated accounts and provided examples of content with serious engagements.
It lists @Pamela_Moore13, @Ten_Gop, @Crystal1Johnson as significant abusers.
Updated Numbers of IRA Accounts for a Total of 50,258 Automated Accounts Linked to 2016 Election
Since continuing their analysis, Twitter identified and suspended an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA and now recognizes that “automated election-related content associated with Russian signals represented a tiny fraction of the overall activity on Twitter in the ten-week period preceding the 2016 election. Through our supplemental analysis, we have identified 13,512 additional accounts, for a total of 50,258 automated accounts that we identified as Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content during the election period, representing approximately two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016%) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.”
All of the findings were shared with Congress.
Enhancing Information Quality
Twitter hopes to improve the quality of the accounts registered on its platform with the following steps :
- Investing further in machine-learning capabilities that help us detect and mitigate the effect on users of fake, coordinated, and automated account activity;
- Limiting the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck and via the Twitter API;
- Continuing the expansion of its developer onboarding process to better manage the use cases for developers building on Twitter’s API. Twitter hopes that it will help them improve how it enforces its policies on restricted uses of the developer products, including rules on the appropriate use of bots and automation.
Media Literacy and Partnerships to Empower its Users in Recognizing Real from Fake News
Twitter has formed a partnership with journalistic NGOs for training and outreach initiatives, including Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. We will keep working with reporters, journalism NGOs, and media organizations to ensure that Twitter’s full capabilities are built into newsrooms and established media outlets worldwide.
So What’s Next
- Verify major party candidates for all statewide and federal elective offices, and major national party accounts, as a hedge against impersonation;
- Maintain open lines of communication to federal and state election officials to quickly escalate issues that arise;
- Address escalations of account issues with respect to violations of Twitter Rules or applicable laws;
- Continually improve and apply our anti-spam technology to address networks of malicious automation targeting election-related matters; and
- Monitor trends and spikes in conversations relating to the 2018 elections for potential manipulation activity.
A year of Donald Trump’s Presidency Told in Fake News Shared On Twitter
These are all steps in the right direction, but one cannot help to wonder if Twitter will ever take actions against who many would consider being the most prominent offender of all: the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Trump is now on track to exceed 2,000 false or misleading claims all shared on Twitter, according to a Washington Post database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks “every suspect statement uttered by the president.”
If that doesn’t break the terms and conditions imposed by Twitter, what does? Nevertheless, at this moment, Twitter doesn’t seem to be willing to tackle this offender.
At the time of publishing, Twitter had not responded to our questions. The article will be updated if new information is provided.
Update January 22, 2018
– Well, it appears that Twitter still has a lot of work to do. Read our latest article Russian Bots Pollutes Twitter With #Schumershutdown Hashtag.
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