By Greg Gordon / McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed television network, spent $274,000 on more than 1,800 tweets on Twitter’s network that “definitely or potentially targeted the U.S. market” during the 2016 presidential campaign, representatives of the social media giant told congressional investigators Thursday.
When clients pay to promote their tweets, Twitter pushes them higher into the feeds of account holders.
Company officials also reported, in a briefing for members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, that an internal investigation found Russian operatives who opened 470 accounts on Facebook beginning in June 2015 had 201 corresponding accounts on Twitter. The company said in a web blog that it has shut down those accounts.
Twitter’s disclosures followed revelations from Facebook last week that Russians had paid $150,000 for 5,200 ads on its platform during the presidential campaign.
The disclosures are the first in what Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said appears to be the “tip of the iceberg” in Russia’s use of social media to carry out a broad cyber offensive aimed at helping Donald Trump win the White House.
U.S. intelligence agencies said in a declassified report in January that Russia Today and Sputnik, another Russian broadcast outlet tied to the Kremlin, were central players in a propaganda attack aimed at damaging Trump’s heavily favored Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the race.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees and a Justice Department special counsel are conducting parallel investigations into the extent of the Russian operation and whether Trump’s presidential campaign may have collaborated with it.
Colin Crowell, Twitter’s vice president of public policy, government and philanthropy, met privately with House and Senate congressional investigators to lay out what the company has been able to learn to date, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company said.
In the lengthy blog post, Twitter said it is “sharing as much as we can at this stage, because of our commitment to be as transparent as possible.”
“With hundreds of millions of tweets globally every day, scaling these efforts continues to be a challenge. We will continue to look into these matters on an ongoing basis, and we fully anticipate having more to share as we look into further requests for information.”