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Twitter Removes Hundreds of Thousands of Accounts Targeting US elections

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Twitter revealed that they have removed thousands of malicious accounts which could have potentially originated in Iran, Russia, and Venezuela which could be used to spread disinformation online, and this includes previously undisclosed efforts which would target the 2018 US midterm election.

Few months before American voters went to the polls, some of the campaigns who had foreign ties sought to tamper the social and political unrest around hot-button issues. These could be the tactics used by social-media companies to counter these issues. The approach was also adopted by the Internet Research Agency, that is an organisation with has ties with the Russian government, and it was adopted two years back in an attempt to steer the 2016 presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.

Twitter said that they removed about 418 accounts which they believed had its origins from Russia just before the Election Day last November, but they declined to provide specification regarding when this happened.   

Venezuela has also used similar tactics. Twitter said they removed about 764 accounts, the majority of them had been removed in November 2017 itself, which originated from Venezuela and mimicked Russia’s information operations. Twitter went on to say that a second “state-backed influence campaign” had been found and successfully disabled in Venezuela.

Twitter also confirmed that they found an additional malicious activity which originated from Iran, as a part of the campaign which first began in 2018, that was seeking to increase the political messages which were being broadcast in the Iran-run media.  Twitter said that they removed more than 2,600 accounts which were apparently tied to this network.

Carlos Monje Jr, the director of public policy, government and philanthropy in the US and Canada, in a blog post wrote- “The majority of these accounts have been proactively suspended in advance of Election Day. In all, Twitter has estimated that the entire users of Twitter have sent more than 99 million tweets during the first primaries in March until Election Day, and the “majority” of these have come from “individuals who have expressed their views.”

Twitter said that actions have been taken against nearly 6,000 tweets which sought to discourage voters from casting their votes on the day of Election, and most of these tweets have originated in the United States.

Twitter said that they spotted threats far before, and limited their reach, and have invested in new staff as well, in addition to clearer policies around abuse and better artificial-intelligence tools which will be able to challenge fake accounts and suspect posts quicker than human moderators.

Three months after Election Day, a bigger set of malicious actors all around the world have been seen borrowing ideas from Russia’s information-warfare playbook with the goals of destabilizing the U.S. or push political narratives in favour of their governments. The pressure on tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter improve their defenses in response to such tactics will surely become more intense as the 2020 presidential election is drawing near.

In the past, Facebook said that in January, they had removed hundreds of pages which originated in Russia and appeared to focus on regional weather and sports but were serving as a pathway for Russian state-owned media in order to secretly reach out to social media users.

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