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article imageOp-Ed: Twitter publishes a huge archive of tweets by foreign trolls

By Ken Hanly     Oct 17, 2018 in Internet
Twitter has announced that it has published an archive of almost 10 million tweets from troll accounts today. This will provide a treasure trove of data.
Tweets originated from Russian and Iranian accounts
The tweets were sent between 2013 and 2018. Nine million were published by 3,800 different accounts associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency. The last million tweets were posted from accounts Twitter said were associated with Iran.
Note that the archives are only of material from Russia and Iran. What of all the trolls that are based in other countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia? Are there no significant trolls there to be suspended? Do they not attempt to influence US elections?
In the announcement Vijaya Gadde and another author say: "It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge. For our part, we are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services. We will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter, while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation. Our dedicated site integrity team, in partnership with a diverse range of committed organizations and personnel across the company, continue to invest heavily in this area. We are constantly seeking to improve our own ability to detect, understand, and neutralize these campaigns as quickly and robustly as technically possible."
However, the suspension of accounts and collecting of data seems selective. In some cases too there are doubts about the neutrality of those chosen to help weed out undesirable tweeters. The Atlantic Council is just one example.
Vijaya Gadde is the chief legal officer of Twitter and is well compensated for her work. Salary.com claims: "As Chief Legal Officer and Secretary at TWITTER, INC., Vijaya Gadde made $908,060 in total compensation. Of this total $500,000 was received as a salary, $0 was received as a bonus, $0 was received in stock options, $406,560 was awarded as stock and $1,500 came from other types of compensation. This information is according to proxy statements filed for the 2017 fiscal year. "
The Atlantic Council
Facebook uses the Atlantic Council to help it sort out bad actors. Twitter had the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab sort through the data before its official release. In a Medium post the organization pointed out several strategies that the Russian and Iranian accounts used as part of their operations. The post said that the most effective toll posts used exactly the techniques that drive genuine online activism and engagement. They targeted polarizing communities and large events in order to influence public discourse. Much of the material would not be blocked if it were not from Russian trolls. Trump no doubt makes similar tweets and often what could be considered actual hate speech tweets without any response from Twitter. You can probably say anything you want about Putin, Assad, or Kim Jong Un
The Atlantic Council is hardly a neutral arbiter on the issue of bad actors in social media. Rhania Khalek, an independent journalist, said of the Council working with Facebook: “This is alarming. The Atlantic Council — which is funded by gulf monarchies, western governments, NATO, oil and weapons companies, etc. — will now assist Facebook in suppressing what they decide is disinformation.”
The announcement on Verge quotes the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab approvingly: "Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community."
Twitter has become global censor
As far back as June last year an article appeared in the Business Insider titled "Twitter has gone from bastion of free speech to global censor". The article gives an example of one of the ways the censorship works: "On June 17th at around 10 am Doha time (07:00 GMT) the Twitter account of Al Jazeera's Arabic channel, a verified account with more than eleven million followers, was suspended due to an organised campaign. Engineers at Al Jazeera Arabic who were in communication with Twitter said there was a "storm attack" of mass reports of the account to Twitter, which forced the algorithm to temporarily suspend the account, but Twitter did not immediately respond to request for comment."
There is a partial listing of suspended accounts over the years at Wikipedia. Among those suspended were Jack Dorsey founder and CEO of Twitter in November 2017 due to an internal mistake. Jamal Khashoggi was suspended until he left Saudi Arabia, at the request of the kingdom.
Twitter will provide plenty of data to further the campaign to examine Russian attempts on social media to influence US elections but don't expect to have masses of data on Israel or the Saudi attempts to influence elections to say nothing of the myriad corporate lobbying groups who no doubt also use Twitter as a tool to advance their agendas.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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