Twitter to meet with Senate Intel over election meddling

By Eric DuVall  |  Sept. 21, 2017 at 10:02 AM
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Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Representatives from Twitter will meet with investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the role fake accounts on the site played in influencing the 2016 election.

The closed-door meeting is set for Wednesday and is part of the committee's ongoing investigation into Russia's potential role tampering with the election.

Executives from both Twitter and Facebook have pledged to testify in public about the role social media sites unwittingly played in what is described as a Russian-backed misinformation campaign in the run-up to the election. Russian actors were found to have created thousands of "bot" accounts on Facebook and Twitter that blasted out fake news stories in an attempt to convince or confuse U.S. voters. The stories often leveled false accusations against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In a statement, Twitter said it is cooperating with the committee's investigation.

"Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies, and will continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service."

Observers believe bad actors used Facebook and Twitter differently to help sway or confuse voters due to the nature of each medium. Facebook, with 2 billion global users, relies mostly on friendships between people who know each other offline, which makes it more difficult to inject fake news organically. Instead, Facebook has said, "inauthentic accounts" purchased ads on the site that promoted divisive rhetoric. Facebook believes they may have been operated out of Russia.

On Twitter, which has a smaller 360 million members, people follow individuals they've never met, many of whom post under pseudonyms. Twitter is also rife with "bots," accounts that are created by humans, but operate by computer programs crafted to troll the site for certain keywords and promote those tweets. More sophisticated types of bots can be controlled en masse to promote a specific hashtag. Once the search term is trending, it gains in popularity.

For example, Wired magazine reported accounts now believed to have been controlled by Russian sources tweeted out the hashtag "#WarAgainstDemocrats" more than 1,700 times on Election Day.

Twitter executives have acknowledged the problem bots pose on the site and have said they are working aggressively to curtail how they are created and how they operate.

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