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Twitter's Testimony on Russian-Linked Accounts 'Inadequate on Every Level'

Published on .

Credit: Twitter

Twitter Inc. disclosed details about suspicious activity on its network during the U.S. election after it met with two congressional committees conducting probes into Russian meddling, but a top Democrat slammed their presentation as "deeply disappointing."

Twitter said Thursday it disabled 22 accounts after reviewing information from Facebook Inc. showing connections to 450 bogus accounts on that company's social network. It also said it is taking steps to prevent efforts to manipulate its network.

Company representatives met with both House and Senate intelligence panels behind closed doors on Thursday.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, blasted the company's presentation.

"Their response was frankly inadequate on almost every level," he told reporters. "There is a lot more work they have to do."

Warner said that Twitter's presentation appeared mostly derived from Facebook's previous disclosures, showing "an enormous lack of understanding on the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again, begs many more questions."

Ad Spending

Twitter said it shared a roundup of advertisements by RT, a TV network funded by the Russian government that was formerly known as Russia Today. RT spent $274,100 in U.S. ads in 2016, according to Twitter, which said it was still reviewing its internal data. U.S. intelligence agencies have said that RT played a role in Russia's attempts to meddling in the election.

"This is an ongoing process and we will continue to collaborate with investigators," the company said in a statement.

During the election campaign, Twitter says it learned of tweets saying people could cast votes for Hillary Clinton via text message. It says it tweeted reminders that votes couldn't be cast that way. Accounts associated with that activity didn't have an "obvious Russian origin" but some appeared to have been automated, according to Twitter.

"We have shared examples of the content of these removed tweets with congressional investigators," according to the company.

'Spammy' Activity

In the coming months, Twitter said it would make changes to how it responds to "spammy or suspicious activity." That includes new enforcement for suspicious logons and tweets, and reducing the amount of time suspect accounts remain visible. The statement didn't elaborate on how the enforcement would work.

"These are not meant to be definitive solutions," according to the company. "We've been fighting against these issues for years, and as long as there are people trying to manipulate Twitter, we will be working hard to stop them."

Executives from Twitter, along with Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google were asked to appear at a public hearing before the Senate committee Nov. 1, while the House panel requested them next month, according to aides from both committees.

The three companies are facing intense scrutiny from U.S. House and Senate intelligence panels as investigators focus on social media's role in Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook has disclosed that Russians appeared to have bought about $100,000 in election-related ads last year.

The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, said he hopes to arrange another meeting between panel lawmakers and Twitter officials soon. Schiff said in an interview that he wants Twitter officials to explain what kind of internal investigation the company conducted. He said he also want to know the extent of Russia's use of Twitter and how much of the content was directed by bots.

Bloomberg News

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