During the 2016 election cycle, the campaign as well as surrogates of Hillary Clinton aides faced an overwhelming wave of Twitter attacks and some were convinced that it was driven by Russian trolls and bots.

Senate to question Twitter soon

Last Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee investigators were planning to ask Twitter representatives whether false information spread by Russian-based accounts made it into real news stories aimed at attacking the candidacy of Democrat or not and whether the micro-blogging giant took any steps to stem the false news.

The closed door briefing of Thursday in the Hart office building of Senate was the most recent move by federal investigators to probe the role of the micro-blogging giant in the presidential campaign of last year. This has placed the micro-blogging giant into the same place which was occupied by its competitor Facebook for weeks.

For congressional scrutiny, the social media giant was a natural first target given its huge 2 billion user reach and its role as an intermediary between trusted family and friends. In an interview to POLITICO, a source familiar with the investigation said that the social network is interested in the Intelligence Committee because of the outsize influence of the micro blogging giant in distributing news as well as amplifying it. On Wednesday, a Senate aide said that the Senate investigators are inviting the social media giant (Facebook), the search giant (Google) and the micro-blogging giant (Twitter) on Nov 1 to testify publicly about attempts by Russia to use digital platforms for influencing the presidential race.

Fastest way to promote a story is through Twitter: Watts

Clint Watts, a counterterrorism expert and former FBI agent who has studied Russian influence campaigns, said “The fastest way to move a story from outlying media to mainstream media is to promote it on Twitter. All mainstream media is watching Twitter and it spreads organically from there to other platforms.”

In an interview to WIRED, a Twitter spokesperson said, “Twitter engages with governments around the world on public policy issues of importance and of interest to policymakers. We are cooperating with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its inquiry into the 2016 election and will meet with committee staff next week.” The spokesperson added, “Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies, and will continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service.”

Former Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel said “The sock puppets, the fake accounts cost money. It’s not just a couple of guys in Moldova. If it were just a bunch of kids doing it for no reason, or a bunch of crazies putting stuff up on the internet, OK, that’s fine. That’s not political ads. But these are political ads: People are being paid to do it.”