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Twitter removes hundreds of Russian, Iranian accounts trying to ‘undermine US, NATO’

Twitter application (Dreamstime/TNS)
February 25, 2021

Twitter permanently suspended 373 Russian, Iranian and Armenian state-linked accounts this week, including 100 Russian accounts it says were trying to undermine faith in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) and advancing influence efforts targeting the U.S. and European Union (EU).

In a Tuesday blog post, Twitter Safety disclosed two different networks linked to Russian actors. One network included 69 fake accounts, it says amplified pro-Russian government narratives and “focused on undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability.” Twitter said the second network of 31 Russia-affiliated accounts showed signs of links to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which it says has previously advanced Russian influence efforts targeting the United States and European Union (EU).

Twitter also permanently suspended another 273 accounts linked to Iran and Armenia. A network of Iranian-linked actors was behind 238 accounts – the largest network of the banned accounts. 

“The networks we are disclosing relate to independent, state-affiliated information operations that we have attributed to Armenia, Russia and a previously disclosed network from Iran,” Twitter Safety wrote. “Once our investigations were complete, the 373 associated accounts across the four networks were permanently suspended from Twitter for violations of our platform manipulation policies.

Trending topics on Twitter are ranked by engagement, and the platform’s manipulation policies prohibit attempts to manipulate Twitter traffic and trends, including “inauthentic engagements, that attempt to make accounts or content appear more popular or active than they are” and “coordinated activity, that attempts to artificially influence conversations through the use of multiple accounts, fake accounts, automation and/or scripting.”

Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova told Russia’s TASS News Agency, “We will review the grounds for blocking and give an expert opinion.”

Zakharova said the wording of Twitter’s blog post interesting and “Millions of users can fall under it. Even the resources of [Russian blogger Alexey] Navalny’s supporters – they certainly influence the United States and the European Union, given the speed at which anti-Russian sanctions are stamped there at the request of ‘agents of influence.'”

Twitter Safety’s blog post did not specify how the accounts were operated or how each account specifically violated its rules, but did disclose who they suspected were operating the accounts.

In October, Twitter removed 130 accounts it said were trying to disrupt public conversation around the 2020 U.S. election. Twitter said after a final investigation of those accounts, it permanently suspended 238 Iranian accounts. 

At that time, Twitter said the Iranian accounts had “low engagement and did not make an impact on the public conversation.”

Twitter said it also found and permanently suspended 35 accounts with ties to the Armenian government. Twitter said the accounts were responsible for advancing narratives against rival Azerbaijan. Last fall, the two countries broke out in armed conflict over the course of 44 days before a Russia-brokered peace agreement.