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Twitter finds 201 Russian accounts also linked to Facebook ads

The social network discloses its findings to congressional investigators looking into Russia's role in the 2016 election.

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Twitter met with congressional investigators Thursday to discuss Russian-linked accounts on its service.

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Twitter has discovered 201 accounts that appear to be tied to the same Russian accounts that purchased ads on Facebook that may have influenced the 2016 presidential election.

The company shared its findings with congressional investigators Thursday during a closed-door meeting with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in Washington, DC. It said after checking the roughly 450 profiles Facebook shared in its review, it found 22 corresponding Twitter accounts. Those 22 accounts had ties to another 179 Twitter accounts. 

Those that were found to violate Twitter rules have been suspended, the company said in a blog post. 

"Neither the original accounts shared by Facebook, nor the additional related accounts we identified, were registered as advertisers on Twitter," Twitter said. "However, we continue to investigate these issues, and will take action on anything that violates our Terms of Service."

Word of Twitter's participation comes about a week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is turning over 3,000 Russian-linked ads to Congress as part of the federal investigation. The Senate Intel Committee, along with special counsel Robert Mueller, is looking into how the Russian government might have influenced the election and whether President Donald Trump's campaign was involved. Trump has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Twitter said Thursday it also showed the two congressional committees ads purchased by three accounts linked to the news organization Russia Today. Twitter said "based on our findings thus far, (Russia Today) spent $274,100 in US ads in 2016." The company also cited a report earlier this year from the US intelligence community that highlighted Russia Today's efforts to interfere with the election.

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"As of our meetings today we believe this is the complete list from these three accounts within that time frame, but we are continuing to review our internal data and will report back to the committees as we have more to share," Twitter said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said after Thursday's meeting he was disappointed with Twitter's presentation. Warner told reporters he wanted to learn more about the use of fake accounts and bot networks and that Twitter's response was "frankly inadequate" on almost every level. 

"The presentation that the Twitter team made to the Senate Intel staff today was deeply disappointing," he said. "The notion that their work was basically derivative, based upon accounts that Facebook had identified, showed [an] enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions than they offered."

One lingering question is why does the number of Russian-linked accounts on Facebook and Twitter "feel awfully low," said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and assistant communications professor at Syracuse University. Given that Facebook has 2 billion monthly users and Twitter has 328 million, she wants politicians to vet how much time and resources the companies are spending to track down these Russian accounts. 

"We need Congress to provide the necessary oversight because it's now evident that these social media companies have not," she said. "We need to fully understand the scope and exposure these platforms have had to Russia."

Warner also said Americans should have the ability to know when they're seeing a political ad, who's behind it and whether it's sponsored by foreign agents on social media platforms.

"The threat posed by foreign entities to try to sow chaos in our political system, to disrupt our democratic processes, did not end with Election Day in 2016. It continues," he said. 

Twitter declined to respond to Warner's comments. The company, along with Facebook and Google, has also been called by the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify at a public hearing on Nov. 1 about Russia's role influencing the presidential election.

CNET's Abrar Al-Heeti contributed to this report. 

First published Sept. 28, 1:19 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:48 p.m. PT: Adds comments from Sen. Mark Warner and background.
Update, 2:20 p.m. PT: Adds comments from a social media expert.
Update, 4:13 p.m. PT: Adds further comment from Warner. 

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