Twitter Bans Russia Today and Sputnik From Advertising

Updated on
  • RT says Twitter pitched ‘large ad buy’ for 2016 U.S. election
  • Twitter plans to donate earnings from RT ads to fund research

Twitter's Plan to Bring Greater Transparency to Ads

Twitter Inc. is banning advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today and Sputnik effective immediately, after U.S. investigators concluded the Russian media companies attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

It’s one of the biggest changes made yet by social media companies who have been called to respond to the U.S. government’s concerns. Twitter has said that RT, a TV network funded by the Russian government, spent $274,100 in U.S. ads in 2016.

"This decision was based on the retrospective work we’ve been doing around the 2016 U.S. election," Twitter said in a blog post Thursday. "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 said it’s taking the $1.9 million it estimated it earned from RT since the TV network joined as an advertiser in 2011 and will donate the money to funds that support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.

RT reacted with a blog post of its own, claiming Twitter pushed the network for “a large ad buy” for the election, but the channel declined the offer. RT said it was given an in-depth presentation, in which Twitter showed how its users were reacting to the main candidates at the time -- Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Twitter declined to comment on the exchange. RT also said the $274,100 was mostly spent on general promotion of the RT accounts to reach new audiences, not to promote election-related tweets to the U.S. audience.

A person familiar with the matter said Twitter’s conversations with Russia Today had been part of the industry standard of pitching any potential advertiser. It’s the job of any ad sales team to aggressively recruit and retain clients, and sometimes they use strong language in order to do so, the person said, asking not to be identified talking about private ad discussions.

The editor-in-chief of Sputnik called Twitter’s decision "regrettable," in a post on the media company’s website.

Earlier this week, Twitter took steps to address congressional concerns by creating a new "transparency center" to show how much each political ad campaigns spent on advertising, the identity of the organization funding the campaign, and what demographics the ad targeted. Twitter had faced mounting criticism for its failure to take election manipulation by overseas actors on its platform seriously.

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