Twitter Meets with US Committee to Probe 2016 Election

Christian Cutler September 21, 2017
Twitter Meets with US Committee to Probe 2016 Election

Twitter has confirmed that it will meet with the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff next week to discuss matters regarding inquiries into the 2016 US presidential election.

“Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies, and will continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

The committee is accompanied by other congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation of possible links between US president Donald Trump and Russia during last year’s election. Specifically, the probe will be focused on the prevalence of bot accounts, which are automated accounts working in synchrony to flood the social media platform with identical messages. These accounts are blamed for the onslaught of fake news and misinformation in the platform.

Twitter’s case and its possible involvement in the interference are considered distinct from that of Facebook, which has a comparatively larger user base than Twitter. The bots just have to use a “hashtag” in order to make something viral, and because Twitter accounts are public, it is easier for the falsified information to penetrate another user’s news feed.

National security officials are having a comparatively harder time tracing Russian influence on Twitter since the posts in question are not business transactions, as was the case with Facebook ads.

Although the company already stated that it has been working to curb the proliferation of bots on the platform, the San Francisco-based social media giant still hasn’t coughed up information about how it spots bot accounts in fear of fraud perpetrators gaming the system.

“Twitter is a big area of concern here, and they and other platforms that are emerging need to figure out a way to prevent the manipulation of their platform,” a former senior US cybersecurity official reportedly said.

Meanwhile, the committee is listing mounting suspicions toward Russian-linked officials, who might have used Twitter and other similar platforms to pass along damaging information to collaborators.

When asked whether evidences have been found implicating Americans in collaboration with Russian Operatives, Democratic senator and committee vice-chair Mark Warner said, “We don’t have the answer to that yet. That’s one of the reasons why we want to hear from Facebook. We’re going to hear from Twitter next week.”

Tech platforms have been bombarded with inquiries about how social media may have been used to influence American voters.

Earlier this month, Facebok revealed it had found around $150 thousand in ads linked to Russian accounts that targeted US voters. The company has since volunteered to share more details about those transactions with Mueller. Facebook has 2 billion monthly active users worldwide, and that is a figure extremely higher than Twitter’s 328 million users.

Google had its share of criticisms as well. During the election, the search engine giant had to sit on the hot seat when reports surfaced that fake news sites were profiting from its Google Ads. The Alphabet Inc’s unit later removed many of those sites from its ad platform.

A spokesperson from Twitter declined to divulge any specific or certain information it plans to present to the Senate committee. The spokesperson also did not share any detail regarding the results so far of the company’s internal investigations.

A Facebook spokesperson also declined to share how the tech giant found the Russia-linked ads. It also remains unknown whether Facebook cooperates with a special investigator. The company has not yet agreed to meet with the Senate committee.

Russia still denies any alleged meddling in the election, in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to be the US president.


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Christian Cutler

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