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Update on Twitter’s review of the 2016 US election

By Twitter Public Policy
Friday, 19 January 2018

Updated on January 31, 2018

We have expanded the number of people notified about interactions with Twitter accounts potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency. Our notice efforts are focused on certain types of interactions, and they will not encompass every person that ever saw this content. Our goal in providing these notifications is to advance public awareness of and engagement with the important issues raised in our blog post, and provide greater transparency to our account holders and the public.  

We have now sent notices to Twitter users with an active email address who our records indicate are based in the US and fall into at least one of the following categories:  

  • People who directly engaged during the election period with the 3,814 IRA-linked accounts we identified, either by Retweeting, quoting, replying to, mentioning, or liking those accounts or content created by those accounts;
  • People who were actively following one of the identified IRA-linked accounts at the time those accounts were suspended; and
  • People who opt out of receiving most email updates from Twitter and would not have received our initial notice based on their email settings.

Approximately 1.4 million people have now received a notification from Twitter. We will be sending a short survey to a small group of people who received our notification to gain feedback on this process. As our review continues, we may also email additional users. If and when we do so, we will do our best to keep the public updated.

Original post from January 29, 2018

When we appeared before the United States Congress last fall, Twitter publicly committed to regularly updating both congressional committees and the public on findings from our ongoing review into events surrounding the 2016 US election.

Twitter is committed to providing a platform that fosters healthy civic discourse and democratic debate.  We have been cooperating with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. We have committed to be as transparent as possible about sharing what we have learned through our retroactive investigation into activity related to the election.

Since we presented our findings to Congress last fall, we have updated our analysis and continue to look for patterns and signals in data. Today, we are sharing an update on several aspects of that ongoing work, as well as steps we are taking to continue to make progress against potential manipulation of our platform.

Informing People of Malicious Activity in the 2016 Election

As previously announced, we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available.

Examples of IRA Content

Most user engagement was with a very small number of IRA-associated accounts.  Some examples of content which received significant engagement are:

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Updated Numbers of IRA Accounts

As part of our ongoing review, we have identified both more IRA and automated Russia-based accounts. The results of this supplemental analysis are consistent with the results of our previous work: automated election-related content associated with Russian signals represented a very small fraction of the overall activity on Twitter in the ten-week period preceding the 2016 election.

We have identified an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA. We have suspended all of these accounts for Terms of Service violations, primarily spam, and all but a few accounts, which were restored to legitimate users, remain suspended.  At the request of congressional investigators, we are also sharing those account handles with Congress. In total, during the time period we investigated, the 3,814 identified IRA-linked accounts posted 175,993 Tweets, approximately 8.4% of which were election-related.

We have also provided Congress with the results of our supplemental analysis into activity believed to be automated, election-related activity originating out of Russia during the election period. Through our supplemental analysis, we have identified 13,512 additional accounts, for a total of 50,258 automated accounts that we identified as Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content during the election period, representing approximately two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016%) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.  However any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue. 

Enhancing Information Quality

After the 2016 election, we launched our Information Quality initiative to further develop strategies to detect and prevent bad actors from abusing our platform. We have since made significant improvements, while recognizing that we have more to do as these patterns of activity develop and shift over time.

With our current capabilities, we detect and block approximately 523,000 suspicious logins daily for being generated through automation. In December 2017, our systems identified and challenged more than 6.4 million suspicious accounts globally per week— a 60% increase in our detection rate from October 2017. We have developed new techniques for identifying malicious automation (such as near-instantaneous replies to Tweets, non-random Tweet timing, and coordinated engagement). We have improved our phone verification process and introduced new challenges, including reCAPTCHAs to validate that a human is in control of an account.

Alongside these improvements, we’re continuing to expand enforcement of our developer and automation rules. Since June 2017, we’ve removed more than 220,000 applications in violation of our rules, collectively responsible for more than 2.2 billion low-quality Tweets.

In 2018, we will build upon our existing improvements. Our plans include:

  • Investing further in machine-learning capabilities that help us detect and mitigate the effect on users of fake, coordinated, and automated account activity;
  • Limiting the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck and via the Twitter API;
  • Continuing the expansion of our new developer onboarding process to better manage the use cases for developers building on Twitter’s API. This will help us improve how we enforce our policies on restricted uses of our developer products, including rules on the appropriate use of bots and automation.

Media Literacy and Partnerships

We recognize that Twitter is an important part of a larger ecosystem of how news and information spreads online, and that we have a responsibility to support external programs that empower our users, connecting them with resources to give them control over their online experience.

Our partners Common Sense Media, the National Association for Media Literacy, the Family Online Safety Institute and Connect Safely, amongst others, have helped us to craft materials and conduct workshops to help our users learn how to process online information and understand which sources of news have integrity. We focus on elements like verification of sources, critical thinking, active citizenship online and the breaking down of digital divides.

Learn more about our most recent efforts for Media Literacy Week in countries like the US, Canada and Ireland, and follow our partners @MediaLiteracyEd, @CommonSenseEdu and @ConnectSafely for new initiatives like the Teachers Institute at Twitter HQ.

Twitter is proud to partner with journalistic NGOs for trainings and outreach initiatives, including Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. We will keep working with reporters, journalism NGOs, and media organizations to ensure that Twitter’s full capabilities are built into newsrooms and established media outlets worldwide.

Moving Forward

Even as we continue to learn from the events of the 2016 US election, we are taking steps every day to improve the security of our platform and stay one step ahead of those who would abuse it. As part of our preparations for the US midterm elections, our teams are organizing to:

  • Verify major party candidates for all statewide and federal elective offices, and major national party accounts, as a hedge against impersonation;
  • Maintain open lines of communication to federal and state election officials to quickly escalate issues that arise;
  • Address escalations of account issues with respect to violations of Twitter Rules or applicable laws;
  • Continually improve and apply our anti-spam technology to address networks of malicious automation targeting election-related matters; and
  • Monitor trends and spikes in conversations relating to the 2018 elections for potential manipulation activity.

We are committed to ensuring that Twitter is safe and secure for all users and serves to advance healthy civic discussion and engagement. Our work on these issues will never be done, and we will continue in our efforts to protect Twitter against bad actors and networks of malicious automation and manipulation.

 

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