- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The social media giant Twitter is facing greater scrutiny from congressional investigators seeking to explain the widespread dissemination of fake news on the microblogging platform.

On Thursday in a closed-door session, the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the issue of “bots” — or fake, robotic accounts — in addition to the spreading of false news through Twitter.

Senate investigators are keen to learn more about bots, which tech experts say plague Twitter more than other social media platforms, such as Facebook. These fake accounts work together to push identical Twitter hashtags, or index keywords, to get topics trending and dominate the online discussion.

While fake accounts exist on Facebook, Twitter is a more public forum, with a mere hashtag required to step into the information flow. As a result, propaganda bots can easily slip inside news feeds, which Twitter is now aggressive trying to address.

“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,” a spokesperson said.

Thursday’s exploration of Twitter comes amid expanding interest in Russia’s use of social media campaigns. Facebook earlier this month agreed to provide congressional investigators with more than 3,000 Russia-linked social media ads — worth an estimated $100,000 — which were financed by fake accounts from June 2015 to May 2017.

While the ads did not take sides in last year’s presidential candidates, many targeted hot-button religious and racial issues, apparently in a bid to widen U.S. political divides and influence the debate during the 2016 election.

On Wednesday, President Trump waded into the social media debate lashing out at Facebook in a series of morning tweets, calling the platform “anti-Trump” and questioning its role during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Facebook was always anti-Trump,” the president tweeted. “The networks were always anti-Trump.”

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology asked the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google to provide committee investigators with all information regarding the Russian purchasing of “anti-fracking or anti-fossil fuel” advertisements from January 2010 to the present.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, has said the social media giants likely do not know how deeply Kremlin propaganda efforts penetrated their platforms.

“They had a fairly narrow search,” Mr. Warner said earlier this month. “They’ve not looked at other countries where there’s lots of indication of trolls being used.”

Twitter has declined to comment on the specifics of its internal investigations.

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