- Twitter announced on Thursday that it was immediately banning all ads on the service from the Russian news agencies RT and Sputnik.
- The policy change comes one week before Twitter representatives are set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about how Russia exploited the platform during the election.
- The company said it would donate the $US1.9 million it was “projected to have earned from RT global advertising since they became an advertiser in 2011.”
Twitter announced on Thursday that it would ban all advertisements from the Russian news agencies RT and Sputnik.
“Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, effective immediately,” the company wrote in a statement posted on its blog.
“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.”
RT directed reporters to a lengthy statement published on its website in which it said it “never violated any rules while advertising on Twitter” and “has never spread any sort of deliberate misinformation.”
Sputnik told Business Insider in a statement that it “has never used paid for promotion on Twitter.”
“Sputnik news channels are followed by people who are tired of the mainstream and who are looking for an alternative perspective on the news,” its press office wrote. Sputnik said on its website that “Twitter has so far refused to provide” the news agency with more details about the ban.
RT said last month that the US Department of Justice had asked it to register as a foreign agent, and Yahoo reported around the same time that the FBI had interviewed a former Sputnik reporter as part of an investigation into whether the company was violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Twitter’s representatives are set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week, along with representatives from Facebook and Google, about how Russia exploited the platform to spread disinformation and propaganda during the 2016 election.
The committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, said earlier this month that the committee’s first interview with Twitter representatives was “deeply disappointing” and “frankly inadequate.”
Twitter on Thursday said RT and Sputnik’s implementation of “state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt” the election “is not something we want on Twitter.”
Sputnik and RT will still be able to keep their organic accounts, according to the statement.
The announcement could be an effort to preempt legislation introduced last week by Warner and Sen. Amy Klobuchar that aims to make purchasing political advertisements more transparent — and more difficult for foreign entities.
Twitter has been criticised for not being as proactive as Facebook, which this month said it planned to strengthen its review process for political ads and would begin disclosing which pages purchased them moving forward. And the advertising change does nothing to address how cheap and easy it is to create automated accounts, or bots, which Russia-linked accounts are believed to have programmed to retweet certain keywords, hashtags, and topics en masse during the election.
Still, the social-media giant said it would donate the $US1.9 million it said it was “projected to have earned from RT global advertising since they became an advertiser in 2011” and donate those funds “to support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.”
Read the full statement below:
“Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, effective immediately. 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. 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.
“Early this year, the U.S. intelligence community named RT and Sputnik as implementing state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt the 2016 Presidential election, which is not something we want on Twitter. This decision is restricted to these two entities based our internal investigation of their behaviour as well as their inclusion in the January 2017 DNI report. This decision does not apply to any other advertisers. RT and Sputnik may remain organic users on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.
“Twitter has also decided to take the $US1.9 million we are projected to have earned from RT global advertising since they became an advertiser in 2011, which includes the $US274,100 in 2016 U.S.-based advertising that we highlighted in our September 28 blog post, and donate those funds 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. We will have more details to share on this disbursement soon.”
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