As Twitter, headed by Jack Dorsey, releases bumper revenues and is set to give evidence to the US senate of its own involvement in the rapidly unravelling Russia hybrid offensive on Western democracies from the UK, to the US and beyond, RT out them as having sought Kremlin money during the US election.
“It looks like we have at least part of the explanation for Twitter’s
failure to grip its bot problem, and its reluctance to face the Russian
music: kompromat through its finances.”
This morning, Twitter announced it was banning advertising on RT and Sputnik as they “attempted to interfer with the [US] election on behalf of the Russian government.”
Unfortunately for Dorsey, the horse had already bolted and been hit by a truck.
Earlier Bloomberg reported Twitter had exceeded its sales targets and boosted monthly users by 4 million in the third quarter of 2017.
But with ongoing revalations of vast bot networks being used to target populations with disinformation, the increase in user figures is tainted by association.
Back in September, even a cursory glance at Twitter’s fortunes revealed a concerning picture, leaving the platform open to the abuse it has clearly profited from.
In 2015 Twitter’s “monthly active users” had stalled around 300 million. This monthly user tail off hit Twitter’s share value after which “daily user growth” showed steady increase in 2016. The “monthly user” figure then grew again, to 328 million. When you set that against what we know about paid troll farms, that was already interesting.
What you can’t extrapolate is a bot/puppet figure, unless you look, helpfully, at Trump: 30 million followers, 51% bots/puppets. So, while I then downgraded the percentage from the original forty-four, the Trump count likely means 40% is about right – 131 million monthly users.
At the time, I concluded: “Just thinking out loud, but it’s sobering. Not least that you can buy amplification, but that the model also enhances Twitters shares.”
Seeing Twitter’s news today was already far from re-assuring and then came this, from RT’s Editor in Chief, Margarita Simonyan:
To explain a little about RT and Simonyan, this is an extract from Alternative War, published in August 2017:
“The diversity of Russian-led strategic disinformation is astonishing and deeply disturbing. I discovered the CIA has provided rather detailed analysis on one Russian outlet, Russia Today. RT’s Editor in Chief, Margarita Simonyan, has close ties to top Russian Government officials, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Especially, they say, to Presidential Administration Deputy Chief of Staff Aleksey Gromov, who reportedly manages political TV coverage in Russia and is one of the founders of RT. She was also on Putin’s 2012 presidential election campaign staff. Simonyan has claimed Gromov shielded her from other officials and their requests to air certain reports, and Russian media consider Simonyan to be Gromov’s protégé. (She replaced Gromov on state-owned Channel One’s Board of Directors.)
Government officials, including Gromov and Putin’s Press Secretary Peskov, were involved in creating RT and appointing Simonyan, according to the CIA report. Gromov oversees political coverage on broadcast media on behalf of the Russian state, and has periodic meetings with media managers – where he shares classified information and discusses, or possibly directs, their coverage plans. Some opposition journalists, including Andrey Loshak, claim he has also ordered media attacks on opposition figures. The Kremlin, the CIA states, not only staffs RT but closely supervises the coverage it provides, specifically recruiting people who can convey Russian strategic messaging because of their ideological beliefs. This extends beyond “alternative NGOs” like Swedhr, and includes even British political figures, Nigel Farage being a specific case in point. The structure of RT also confirms additional links between Farage and the upper echelons of the Kremlin, which makes sense of a lot more I uncovered while investigating this rather intricate web. According to Simonyan, the Russian Government sets rating and viewership requirements for RT and, “since RT receives budget from the state, it must complete tasks given by the state.” Tasking is a specific indicator of espionage connections and this deepens when you consider additional factors. For example, the head of RT’s Arabic-language service, Aydar Aganin, was rotated from the diplomatic service to manage RT’s Arabic-language expansion, suggesting a close relationship between RT and Russia’s foreign policy apparatus. And, in addition, RT’s London Bureau is managed by Darya Pushkova, the daughter of Aleksey Pushkov, the current chair of the Duma Russian Foreign Affairs Committee.
RT has intensified its efforts, dominating social media with an almost viral level of spread – the specific risk STRATCOM is trying to address. Nonetheless, RT has been highly successful at infiltrating and driving its narratives across the Western world. The United States provides one very good example of their achievements and, in her interview with pro-Kremlin journalist Sergey Minaev, Simonyan complimented RT staff in the United States for passionately defending Russian positions on the air and in social media. “I wish you could see…how these guys, not just on air, but on their own social networks, Twitter, and when giving interviews, how they defend the positions that we stand on!” she said.”
It looks like we have at least part of the explanation for Twitter’s failure to grip its bot problem, and its reluctance to face the Russian music: kompromat through its finances.
All the while, Russia’s backlash against questioning is increasing, with the support of its partners who have been involved in the use of Twitter bots on both sides of the Atlantic.