Twitter is blocking advertising from the Russian state-backed news organizations Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik for promoting false and misleading stories across the network. Twitter also announced it would donate $1.9 million it had earned from RT advertising since 2011 to “support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.”
Twitter said its decision to kill the ads of both organizations was in response to the conclusion by the director of National Intelligence that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of the Russian government.
“We did not come to this decision lightly, and we are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter,” the company said in a statement.
The decision comes days after Twitter launched what it calls a “Transparency Center” to publicly disclose who is advertising on the network, which has 328 million monthly active users around the world but whose tweets are also distributed through embeds across the news media.
Twitter is making these changes in advance of its scheduled public appearance on Capitol Hill before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week, alongside Facebook and Google. The companies are expected to face questions about how Russian organizations such as RT and Sputnik, as well as Russian-connected individuals and organizations, were able to distribute and target provocative and misleading information in the U.S. during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Silicon Valley also now faces the possibility of new regulation because of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Honest Ads Act, backed by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner, of Virginia, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, would require large internet companies to create and maintain “public inspection files” that would allow third parties to track political ad spending, much like what is currently required of TV, radio, and newspapers.
Twitter’s move to block advertising from RT and Sputnik only addresses what’s believed to be a small slice of the Russian government’s social media influence campaign during the 2016 election.
The company revealed in late September that it had found about 200 accounts linked to the same Russian operatives who had paid $100,000 for about 3,000 ads on Facebook during the election. At the time, the company noted that it catches more than “3.2 million suspicious accounts globally per week.”