Enlarge / Maybe Twitter should try this approach for the 677,775 emails it says it will soon send to affected users.Warner Bros. / Sam Machkovech
On Friday, Twitter took an end-of-the-week opportunity to dump some better-late-than-never news onto its userbase. For anybody who followed or engaged with a Twitter account that faked like an American during the 2016 election season but was actually linked to a major Russian propaganda campaign, you’re about to get an email.
Twitter announced that it would contact a massive number of users with that news: 677,775 users to be exact. This count includes those who interacted with the 3,814 accounts that Twitter has directly linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian troll farm whose election-related meddling was exposed in 2017.
That number of accounts, Twitter noted, is a jump from Twitter’s prior count of 2,812 IRA-linked trolls, which it had disclosed as part of an October 2017 hearing in Congress. Twitter says that this specific pool of troll accounts generated 175,993 posts during the 2016 period of activity that Twitter has been analyzing, and the service noted that 8.4 percent of those posts were “election-related.” In its Friday disclosure, Twitter did not take the opportunity to acknowledge how the remaining percentage of these posts, which included anything from “I’m a real person” idle banter to indirect and divisive messaging, may have ultimately contributed to the troll farm’s impact. (For example: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey bit, and bit hard, on a known IRA account by retweeting two of its 2016 posts.)
The post included snapshots of five example posts from IRA-linked accounts, which are included in the above gallery. Since Twitter’s post included their actual handles, you can find more screencaps of their activity before being banned by digging around.
Twitter also announced it discovered a larger batch of “automated, election-related activity originating out of Russia.” This activity, which Twitter describes as distinct from the IRA-powered campaigns, has now been linked to “13,512 additional accounts, for a total of 50,258 automated accounts.” The announcement was a little more vague about the substance and approach of these accounts, however, and it did not clarify whether any Twitter members who engaged with these accounts would be among those receiving an email notice.
Twitter says it has suspended all accounts discovered via its latest findings—which means anybody who engaged with the accounts in question will not be able to log onto Twitter and see what exactly fooled them. The company has also shared the “handles” of offending accounts to US Congress; based on that phrasing, that could mean the accounts’ contents remain unshared with Congress.
The post points out internal Twitter efforts to better identify and block illegitimate accounts. Among other disclosures, the announcement claims that Twitter “detects and blocks approximately 523,000 suspicious logins daily for being generated through automation” and that its automatic detection tools have gotten better at noticing trends such as “near-instantaneous replies to Tweets, non-random Tweet timing, and coordinated engagement.” The platform has continued to resist letting users report suspicious, troll farm-like activity, however, but it does promise to better prepare for similar, potential disruptions in the 2018 election season. Twitter says it will spearhead a comprehensive verification process for candidates in this coming election season and that it will “monitor trends and spikes in conversations relating to the 2018 elections for potential manipulation activity.”
Update: To see what Twitter’s email notifications for this news look like, take a peak at the notice sent to US Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.).