Here’s everything we know so far about today’s massive release of fake Russian and Iranian tweets


Twitter announced on Wednesday that it would finally release all of the tweets it had been able to link to Russian and Iranian fake social media operations.

The mammoth release totaled about 10 million tweets: 9 million from Russian accounts and one million from Iranian accounts. All told, Twitter linked some 4,500 accounts to the campaigns, as well as over 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts. Perhaps most remarkably, Twitter announced that some of the accounts stretched all the way back to 2009 — shortly after Twitter launched.

In a statement, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde and Yoel Roth said that the company was releasing all of the tweets for the sake of transparency. As they wrote:

In line with our strong principles of transparency and with the goal of improving understanding of foreign influence and information campaigns, we are releasing the full, comprehensive archives of the Tweets and media that are connected with these two previously disclosed and potentially state-backed operations on our service. We are making this data available with the goal of encouraging open research and investigation of these behaviors from researchers and academics around the world.

Twitter’s release is the ultimate treasure trove for researchers, analysts, and users. While some previously released databases have offered an overview of Russian operations, this release is the mother lode: the entirety of what Twitter has identified, and all of the attendant images that accompany the texts of the tweets.

As Wired characterized it, “We finally know the full extent of Russia’s Twitter trolling campaign.” 

While researchers and journalists are only just beginning to sift through the data, some findings have already come to the fore. For instance, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab noted that there was a far higher willingness for these accounts to target domestic populations — especially in Russia — than many in America may realize. “The Russian troll farm posted significantly more in Russian than in English, especially in late 2014 until early 2015, when Russia was fighting an undeclared war in Ukraine and facing anti-corruption demonstrations at home,” DFR Lab researchers wrote

In the United States, the tweets released on Wednesday also confirmed that Russian accounts didn’t immediately gravitate toward Donald Trump, but initially cast a wider net — including backing Sen. Ted Cruz (R). The tweets were uniformly pro-Trump (and anti-Hillary Clinton) in the lead-up to the actual election, but appeared to revert to stoking animus on both sides of the political aisle after the election. As POLITICO found, Russian accounts targeted Trump supports and those opposing the president alike in the aftermath of Trump’s decision to refer to Haiti and African countries as “sh*thole” nations.

The latest release also highlights another facet of the fake social media operations: just how little information Facebook has released. While Twitter has now revealed every single tweet linked to Russian and Iranian campaigns, Facebook, more than a year after it announced it had removed hundreds of Russia-linked accounts, hasn’t even bothered to release the names of those accounts. Hopefully, Twitter’s precedent will finally convince Facebook that there’s nothing wrong with transparency — at least when it comes to these types of campaigns.

Source: Left2