Twitter bans ads from two Russian media outlets, cites election meddling

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc on Thursday accused
Russian media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik of
interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and banned them from
buying ads on its network, after criticism the social network
had not done enough to deter international meddling.

RT and Sputnik condemned the decision, saying Twitter had
encouraged ad spending with its sales tactics, while Russia’s
foreign ministry said the ban was due to U.S. government
pressure and that it planned to retaliate.

San Francisco-based Twitter said in an unsigned statement on
its website that election meddling is “not something we want”
on the social network. It cited a report this year from U.S.
intelligence agencies and said it had also done its own
investigations of RT and Sputnik.

“We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this
step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect
the integrity of the user experience on Twitter,” the company

Twitter, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have all
recently detected that suspected Russian operatives used their
platforms last year to purchase ads and post content that was
politically divisive. Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Twitter said it would take the estimated $1.9 million it had
earned from RT global advertising since 2011 and donate the
money “to support external research into the use of Twitter in
civic engagement and elections.”

The company said it would allow RT and Sputnik to maintain
regular, non-ad Twitter accounts in accordance with its rules.
RT, an English-language news channel, accused Twitter’s
sales staff of pressuring it to spend big on advertising in 2016
ahead of the election.

“The more money RT spent, the bigger the reach to American
voters that Twitter would provide,” RT said, describing the
Twitter sales pitch. It said it never “pursued an agenda of
influencing the U.S. election through any platforms, including

Twitter declined to comment on any discussions with
advertisers. A former Twitter employee said the sales pitch to
RT is similar to what the company uses to lure advertisers to
Twitter, which has struggled to turn a profit.

On Thursday, Twitter said it may become profitable for the first
time next quarter after slashing expenses and ramping up
deals to sell its data to other companies, which could help to
break its reliance on advertising for revenue.

Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to
questions about whether they would limit Russia media ad


In April, Reuters reported that RT and Sputnik were part of a
plan by Russian President Vladimir Putin to swing the U.S.
presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’
faith in the American electoral system, according to three
current and four former U.S. officials.

On Oct. 19, U.S. lawmakers, alarmed that foreign entities used
the internet to influence last year’s election, introduced
legislation to extend rules governing political advertising on
broadcast television, radio and satellite to also cover social

General counsels for Twitter, Facebook and Google will testify
on Nov. 1 before public hearings of the Senate and House
intelligence committees on alleged Russian interference in the
2016 U.S. election.

“Twitter is wisely positioning itself to be able to tell the
committees that the company has taken steps to address the
issues raised,” Adam Sharp, a former Twitter executive, told
Reuters on Thursday.

The Russian foreign ministry said the ban was a “gross
violation” by the United States of the guarantees of free

“Retaliatory measures, naturally, will follow,” ministry
spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to the RIA
news agency.

Sputnik, a news agency, said on its website that Twitter’s move
was regrettable, “especially now that Russia had vowed
retaliatory measures against the U.S. media.”

Some analysts said transparency, rather than a ban, would
have been a better approach. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows
anonymous accounts and automated accounts, or bots,
making the service more difficult to police.

“Banning any particular person, group or country is just bad
policy – in other parts of the world, platforms will come to be
viewed as a tool of U.S. or other foreign policy and it will give
authoritarian regimes more excuses to ban speech,” Albert
Gidari, who as a lawyer has represented tech companies, said
in an email. Gidari is now privacy director at Stanford Law
School’s Center for Internet and Society.

A U.S. lawmaker, Representative Adam Schiff, applauded
Twitter’s move.

“Serving as a platform for free expression does not require
assisting foreign powers in their efforts to push propaganda,
whether by promoted tweets or other means,” Schiff, the top
Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a

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