Twitter admits Russia-linked troll accounts more widespread than first feared


Twitter has identified over 1,000 more accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, widely considered to be a Kremlin-linked “troll farm.” Twitter said it will notify some 700,000 users who were exposed to fake news.

A new Twitter probe has identified an additional 1,062 Russian-linked accounts that circulated fake news ahead of the US presidential election in 2016.

The social media giant said it had uncovered a total of 3,814 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Saint Petersburg-based company that is widely seen as a “troll farm” with links to the Russian government. Over the 10-week timespan prior to the November 2016 election, the accounts posted 175,993 tweets, roughly 8.4 percent of which were election-related.

Twitter said it also found an additional 13,512 automated bot accounts that were directed by Russia, taking the total number of identified bots up to 50,258.

Twitter, along with fellow tech giants Facebook and Google, has come under increasing scrutiny for allowing the spread of fake news ahead of the US elections, as well as votes in dozens of other countries.

Twitter to alert exposed users

In a bid to remedy the damage, the company said it intends to notify some 670,000 users who engaged with any content posted by the accounts in question. “Any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue,” the company said in a statement.

Read more: Trump media attacks echo Stalin, says Republican Senator Jeff Flake

Twitter also said it is complying fully with Congress’ investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 US election. At a testimony hearing late last year, Twitter, Google and Facebook revealed that millions more of Americans had been exposed to fake news reports as previously thought.

Facebook asks users to rank trust in news sources

As part of Facebook’s plan to repair the damage left by the fake news scandal, the company announced on Friday that it would be asking its 2 billion users to rank their trust in news sources as part of its latest attempt to quell the circulation of fake news on its network.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg said in an online post that the social network would seek to “prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.”

Zuckerberg added: “There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today. Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”

Read more: Facebook: 126 million users exposed to Russian political posts in US election

Facebook’s new trusted sources ranking, which is slated to launch next week, would rely on members surveying their most trusted sources. “We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with,” Zuckerberg said.

The move comes a week after Facebook announced that its next major feed update would prioritize content from friends and family on the network, over posts from media organizations and advertisements. The tech giant said the change was part of its refocus on “community” and admitted it could see users spending less time on the site.

dm/jlw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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