Media Rush to Ponder Alleged Russian Collusion as Twitter Releases 'Troll' Posts

© AP Photo / Matt Rourke, FileTwitter app on a mobile phone
Twitter app on a mobile phone - Sputnik International
The move to shed light on "foreign trolls" arrived on the heels of a US Senate hearing, in which the social media giant, along with others, testified before the Senate and committed “to provide regular updates” into foreign interference.“

Twitter has published a vast data cache, consisting of roughly 10 million tweets "associated with potential information operations that we have found on our service since 2016", the social network said in a blog post.

In what appears to be essentially the second release of such a kind since January, the disclosed data on information techniques and strategies, reportedly used in recent political campaigns, is to serve the purposes of “independent research and investigation,” Twitter, whose CEO testified before the Senate less than a month ago, wrote.

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Among all the tweets posted between 2013 and 2016, nine million were published by over 3,800 different accounts dating back to 2009 and which Twitter has claimed are affiliated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, while the rest, about a million, of the tweets originated from accounts that the company said had to do with Iran.

Western Media Nagging at Alleged Russian Collusion

Mainstream media, including CNBC, The Verge, Politico and others, have quickly picked up on the Russian collusion allegations, hunting for still absent proof of the country’s alleged involvement in the US presidential campaign, which Russia has vigorously denied on multiple occasions, and hoping that the released tweets might hint at that. Twitter, notably, hasn’t explicitly drawn any conclusions, leaving that for the readers to do.  The social network company does not even directly refer to Russia in connection with the US presidential election, but places a link to a blog post on the first batch of released tweets, in which they said they had “sent notices to Twitter users who directly engaged during the election period with the 3,814 IRA-linked accounts we identified” by “retweeting, quoting, replying to” or who were “actively following one of the identified IRA-linked accounts.”

Politico, meanwhile, cited a political scientist claiming that upon analysis of the tweets, he came to believe that while the Clinton skepticism was clear from the beginning, “it took the IRA a while to settle on its Trump strategy.” "But on the Republican side, in the early days, they seemed to be backing more than one horse," Ben Nimmo,  an information defense fellow at the non-partisan Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, said.

Along with 10 million Tweets, the newly released batch includes more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts, as well as  “the earliest on-Twitter activity from accounts connected with”  campaigns, dating back to 2009.

According to the Twitter blog post, “coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease,” since the tactics “have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed.” The company went on to state that “they will adapt and change” in line with the evolving “geopolitical terrain” and the emergence of new cutting-edge technologies. 

“For our part, we are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services,” Twitter noted adding “the most effective Russian trolls used exactly the techniques which drive genuine online activism and engagement.”

Social Networks' Vows on 'Regular Updates'

The company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and on “political bias,” The Star wrote, on social media platforms in September 2018.

According to Twitter, they committed to the United States Congress and the public “to provide regular updates and information regarding our investigation into foreign interference in political conversations on Twitter.”

In April, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was grilled by the US Senate after revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm outsourced during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had gathered personal information from 87 million users to try to influence elections. Later on, this past summer, Facebook published sets of data following the 2016 vote cycle, namely a sizeable set of posts and links that trolls reportedly promoted.

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