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Twitter, Facebook to alert users about Russian propaganda content

Facebook has rolled out a tool for people to check if they liked or followed accounts created by Russian’s IRA.

tech Updated: Jan 18, 2018 13:29 IST
A man is silhouetted as he uses a mini tablet computer while standing in front of a video screen with the Facebook and Twitter logos
A man is silhouetted as he uses a mini tablet computer while standing in front of a video screen with the Facebook and Twitter logos(Reuters)

Twitter has told a US Senate committee that the micro-blogging platform is working towards alerting its users who may have seen Russia-linked advertisements during the 2016 US presidential election.

Appearing before the US Commerce, Science and Technology Committee late on Wednesday, Carlos Monje, Twitter’s Director of US Public Policy, said Twitter would ‘inform individually’ everyone who saw tweets from accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), online news portal Siliconbeat reported.

Monje, along with officials from Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, testified before the committee about how Twitter is combating terror-related content on its platform.

Facebook representatives told Senator Richard Blumenthal, District of Connecticut, that it has already started rolling out a tool that lets users check if they liked or followed a Facebook page or Instagram account created by the IRA.

“The tool, though, doesn’t tell users, if Russian-linked content appeared on their News Feed during the election,” the report added.

Blumenthal was pleased with Facebook’s response but unhappy with Google.

“I just want to be blunt. I am disappointed by Google’s written response. It essentially blew off my concerns by saying the nature of the platform made it difficult to know who has viewed its content,” he was quoted as saying.

The tech executives also told the lawmakers how they have been using a mix of artificial intelligence (AI) and employees to flag extremist content.

In September last year, Twitter announced that it deleted over 200 fake Russian accounts and identified Russia Today of buying bought ads targeted at American users’ accounts.

In a closed-door meeting, Colin Crowell, Twitter’s Vice President for Public Policy, met with staff from Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the issue.

“This is an ongoing process and we will continue to collaborate with investigators. Twitter is in dialogue with congressional committees with respect to investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US election,” the micro-blogging platform said in a blog post.

Twitter also shared with committee staff ads that three Russia Today (RT) accounts targeted to the US market in 2016.

“Based on our findings thus far, RT spent $274,100 in US ads in 2016. In that year, the three RT accounts promoted 1,823 tweets that definitely or potentially targeted the US market,” Twitter said.

According to Twitter, Russia and other post-Soviet states have been a primary source of automated and spammy content on Twitter for many years.

“Content that violates our rules with respect to automated accounts and spam can have a highly negative effect on user experience, and we have long taken substantial action to stem that flow,” it added.

Similarly, Google has acknowledged that it found evidence that Russian operatives used the company’s platforms to influence American voters.

Google said in a blog post last year that it had found 1,108 videos with 43 hours of content related to the Russian effort on YouTube. It also found $4,700 worth of Russian search and display ads.