Twitter shut down over 200 accounts linked to Russian government operatives, the company said Thursday, in response to mounting evidence that the platform was used extensively to sow discontent and misinformation in the United States on behalf of the Kremlin.
Facebook announced similar news, saying it had deactivated roughly 450 Facebook accounts for similar activities sponsored by the Russian government. Some of the Facebook and Twitter accounts were directly related.
The news paints a clearer picture of what the intelligence community has been referring to when it cites “Russian efforts to interfere with our democracy,” “the 2016 election,” or other similar themes.
In exclusive reports on CNN and The Daily Beast, those organizations showed that entities acting on behalf of the Russian government had bought ads to be placed on Facebook that carried both Islamophobic and pro-Black Lives Matter memes and fake news, and targeted them to appear in politically charged locations throughout the country, like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
In addition to the often racially charged memes and fake news, these Russian operatives were disseminating both pro-Hillary and pro-Trump messages and themes over social media. It offers the clearest proof that the underlying objective of a Russian misinformation and interference campaign was to sow resentment, distrust, and chaos across our political landscape. If our politics of the last two years are any indication, it has succeeded.
Twitter also used the opportunity to lay out steps it has taken to prevent the use of their platform in this manner, but acknowledged that the task is difficult. With well over 300 million regular users, the company cannot be everywhere all the time.
At a time when social media often dictates the traditional news cycle—how often have you seen a report on traditional news media that starts with “trending on Facebook and Twitter today”—targeted misinformation campaigns can have far-reaching and widespread effects. As our lives have moved more and more onto the internet, and greater numbers of people receive their news solely through their social media feeds, the threat from hostile entities which spread false or deceptive information will only continue to grow.
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