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Twitter bans Russia-backed outlets RT and Sputnik from advertising over election meddling

After facing criticism for not taking Russian meddling in the U.S. election seriously enough, Twitter took one of the most aggressive moves yet, banning the Kremlin-backed Russia Today and Sputnik news outlets from advertising on the social media service.

“This decision was based on the retrospective work we’ve been doing around the 2016 U.S. election and the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government,” the company said in a blog post.

The ban comes as the United States pressures Russia Today to register as a foreign agent, meaning its content would be labeled propaganda.

Both outlets will be allowed to maintain their Twitter accounts, the company said.

In a blog post RT accused Twitter of publishing a report that included confidential data on RT ad campaigns. The report, RT said, “implied that the channel was trying to influence Twitter users via advertising on the platform.”

RT says the allegation is “absolutely groundless and greatly misleading.”

“We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter,” Twitter said.

The San Francisco company will donate an estimated $1.9 million earned from RT ads since 2011 to “support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections, including use of malicious automation and misinformation, with an initial focus on elections and automation.”

Last month Twitter told lawmakers it found some 200 accounts linked to the same Russian groups that bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook to sow political unrest and manipulate U.S. voters during the presidential election.

The Twitter accounts, which were taken down over the last month, were linked to 470 accounts and pages that Facebook traced to the International Research Agency, an entity known as a troll farm that unleashes fake social media accounts to stir controversy and conflict.

Twitter’s presentation on Capitol Hill drew sharp criticism from a key senator who accused the social media company of not being aggressive enough in probing Russian interference in the election.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, told reporters that the presentation was “inadequate on almost every level” and showed “an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and, again, begs many more questions than they answered.”

Technology giants Facebook and Google are also on the hot seat with lawmakers. Next week all three companies willsend their general counsels to testify before the Senate and House intelligence committees on how Russia may have used their services to influence the presidential election.

Senators introduced a bipartisan bill last week that would require the companies to disclose who is paying for political ads that appear on their online platforms.

The legislation by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., comes in the wake of recent revelations that Kremlin-linked groups exploited American social media to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Those Russian efforts have been continuing as the U.S. heads into the 2018 congressional elections, the senators said.


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