In a recent update to its internal investigations, Twitter announced that some 1.4 million of its users interacted with Russian trolls during the 2016 election period. The company has been able to identify 3,814 specific accounts deemed “linked to the Russian government” that had been opened with the intent of swaying public opinion regarding the election. Twitter then set out to determine just how many of their clients had actually come across content from these users. The current number of 1.4 million is more than double the initial 677,775 Twitter originally estimated in a statement less than two weeks ago.
Why the drastic jump in the figure?
Twitter shifted its definition a bit on what constitutes interaction. As the company’s blog post from the 31st of January explained, “interaction” now includes people who “who directly engaged” with the accounts and those who were “actively following” one of them.
Even with this dramatic increase, Twitter insists that the figure still does not encompass “every person that ever saw this content.” Twitter closed the post explaining that a “short survey” would be sent to a sample group from the 1.4 million in order to “gain feedback” and that “additional users” may be contacted in the future. From these last two points, it is clear Twitter believes the extent of Russian troll influence via Twitter has yet to be fully revealed.
Despite its attempts at investigating the Russian troll phenomenon, Twitter has been put under the gun by policymakers, especially Democrats, to provide more complete answers. Top House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) and top Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for instance have claimed publicly that Twitter and other tech giants such as Facebook have not responded adequately to questions from their office connected to the Russian troll conspiracy. Both claimed that the responses they have received “have raised more questions than they have answered.”
The tumult surrounding the Twitter announcement underscores just how influential the Russian troll issue has become and will continue to be, on Capitol Hill. As highlighted in earlier TrigTent pieces, the increasing trend of new policies designed to bolster the integrity of US elections has been a direct outcome of revelations of Russian meddling in the last presidential race. Over a year after this conspiracy first came to light, these reports are seemingly unending.
The midterm elections are drawing closer. Reports such as Twitter’s latest blog post will only serve to increase the efforts of the administration and policymakers alike in bolstering America’s electoral systems.