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RUBLE ME THIS

Tech giants didn’t spot Russia paying for 2016 disinformation with rubles

Senate's Russia attack findings
Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP
Russia paid for its ads with rubles.
  • Max de Haldevang
By Max de Haldevang

Geopolitics reporter

The US Senate Intelligence Committee lambasts Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s “belated and uncoordinated response” to Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election in a report to be released today (Dec, 17), according to a draft obtained by the Washington Post.

In a damning sign of their incompetence, the Silicon Valley giants apparently didn’t pick up on the fact that disinformation agents from Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) bought ads on their platforms in rubles, used Russian phone numbers as contact information, and left technical clues that they were based in St Petersburg. It’s unclear from the Post’s report which of the three companies this applies to; the full report is expected to land later today.

The three companies were reportedly unhelpful in sharing data with the Senate, with the report asking them to engage in “meaningful and constructive” ways in the future. Facebook apparently refused to share data from some accounts run by the IRA, Twitter is said to have made it difficult for researchers to collect and analyze data, and Google reportedly didn’t provide crucial statistics about how Russia-created YouTube videos were viewed.

Neither of the three companies immediately replied to a request for comment. Twitter told the Post it had made “significant strides” in improving digital defenses since the election, and pointed out that it has since released millions of tweets from Russia-linked accounts for the benefit of researchers.

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