Russian bots retweeted Donald Trump nearly 500,000 times in the 10 weeks leading up to and directly following the US presidential election – 10 times more than they retweeted his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The findings come from Twitter’s latest report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Congress attempts to assess the effect of Russian social media activity on the 2016 election.
Twitter found that Russia-connected, automated accounts sent more than 2m election-related tweets between 1 September and 15 November 2016. The tweets came from more than 50,000 Russian bots, and accounted for approximately one per cent of all tweets sent at the time.
The bots engaged more heavily with Mr Trump than his opponent, accounting for more than 4 percent of the retweets he received. They accounted for less than 1 per cent of retweets received by Ms Clinton.
The bots also engaged heavily with Wikileaks, the organisation that first released emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Russian bot accounts retweeted Wikileaks some 200,000 times over the 10-week timespan. They were responsible for nearly 5 per cent of tweets using #PodestaEmails.
Twitter said this month that it will notify nearly 700,000 of its users that they had liked, followed, or retweeted a Russian bot during this time period. Many of these accounts were disguised to look like American accounts, and racked up tens of thousands of followers.
To determine if an account was an automated bot, Twitter examined things like the timing of the tweets and of other users’ engagement with them.
Twitter also took note of whether the account was created in Russia, whether it was associated with a Russian phone carrier or email address, whether the user’s display name contained a significant number of Cyrillic characters, or whether they had ever logged in from any Russian IP address. Any one of these criteria would be enough to deem the bot Russia-connected.
Twitter is not the first company to submit such findings to Congress. Facebook and Google have also been called to testify, as legislators investigate what US intelligence agencies have called an “influence campaign” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the election.
Facebook revealed in September that it had discovered 3,000 ads from 470 accounts connected to a Russian bot manufacturer. These accounts collectively created 80,000 pieces of content that were shared with an estimated 126m people.
"You’ve created these platforms, and now, they’re being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told the three tech giants in November. “Or we will."
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