10/18/2017 / By Frances Bloomfield
Twitter has come under fire for deleting user accounts and tweets connected to Russia. The social media giant has a user policy that prohibits the company from saving any content generated by a deleted account, reports the DailyMail.co.uk. As such, user accounts, tweets, and all other types of information that could have aided federal investigators track Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections may now be lost without hope of recovery.
This news comes just as the executives of Twitter, Google, and Facebook have been summoned to testify before congress about online Russian influence on political campaigns. In the case of Twitter, U.S. investigators believe that the social media platform served as one of Russia’s most potent weapons to “nudge the narrative in a certain direction”, according to Politico.com. Unidentified operatives with ties to the Kremlin were said to have created armies of automated bots, false ad campaigns with catchy hashtags, and pro-Trump story lines to secure victory for the now-President of the United States.
Yet Twitter’s pro-consumer privacy policies have cost federal investigators dearly. Moreover, Russian cyber spies are said to scrub away their digital fingerprints and to remove all traces of their online activities once they’ve succeeded in their goals. This is par the course for all those involved in Russian influence operations, and Twitter just makes it easier for them.
Thomas Rid, Strategic Studies professor at John Hopkins University, has said: “Should bot operators and people who spread hate and abuse have the right to remove content from the public domain? Twitter says yes, and I think it’s a scandal. It removes forensic evidence from the public domain, and makes the work of investigators more difficult and maybe impossible. Were Twitter a contractor for the [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation], they could not have built a more effective disinformation platform.”
Twitter has declined to comment on the amount of relevant data expunged from the website, and on whether or not any of the data can be retrieved. However, individuals familiar with Twitter’s attempts at tracking Russian activity on its platform have claimed that the company’s engineers are working to determine what data remains and what can be recovered.
Others are less convinced. Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Clint Watts is one of those who believe that information is permanently gone, stating: “The truth is they don’t know who is on their platform, or how bad people are doing bad things. When the Russians hit on a big story or get a big falsehood going, they collapse their accounts. They are very good at plausible deniability and covering their tracks.”
Further complicating matters is the warning from former FBI Executive Assistant Director Robert Anderson, who spent 15 years pursuing and apprehending Russian spies for the agency. According to Anderson, any existing Russian accounts that that may remain on Twitter have been left there to deceive U.S. investigators.
“The KGB was by far one of the most ruthless counterintelligence organizations the United States has encountered, and Putin was an officer in it for a long time. And now put him in charge of all of these high-speed intelligence, cyber capabilities and operations, as Russia’s president, and you have a very formidable adversary,” said Anderson. (Related: Russia preparing pre-emptive nuclear strike on America, warns Paul Craig Roberts.)
Senator Mark Warner has expressed disappointment at the information shared by Twitter during the Sept. 28 briefing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner stated that the company did the barest amount of investigation, only looking into Russia-affiliated accounts after Facebook’s own probe.
For its part, Twitter claims to have shut down 201 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an agency that performs online influence operations for the Russian government. Moreover, Twitter executives were said to have shared over almost 2,000 tweets from Russian media outlet Russia Today or RT.
Visit WWIII.news to remain updated on the situation as it unfolds.