- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2020

Twitter said it removed around 130 accounts apparently originating in Iran that were trying to “disrupt the public conversation” on the platform during the first U.S. presidential debate this week.

The social media company announced Wednesday evening that it purged the accounts the night before after being alerted by the FBI. At least some of the accounts had been active for months.

“We identified these accounts quickly, removed them from Twitter and shared full details with our peers, as standard,” Twitter said in a statement. “They had very low engagement and did not make an impact on the public conversation. Our capacity and speed continue to grow, and we’ll remain vigilant.”

The FBI told The Washington Times that it provided information to Twitter to “better protect against threats to the nation’s security and our democratic processes” but did not elaborate further.

“Although we cannot discuss the specific information provided, the FBI regularly shares information with social media companies so they can better protect their platforms,” the FBI told The Times.

Twitter offered few additional details besides a sample of posts made on the platform by four of the roughly 130 accounts it removed.

Although the accounts and their content are no longer available on Twitter, available evidence shows at least some of the users claimed to live in the U.S. and posted regularly on the platform.

One of the four accounts cited by Twitter, @78williamjones, claimed to belong to a political analyst and journalist from Brooklyn who has regularly posted negative comments about President Trump. A cached version of the account’s Twitter profile shows it was created in June 2020. It posted more than 1,200 times on the platform and was followed by more than 5,000 accounts before it was removed.

Among the other accounts Twitter cited: @JackQanon seemed to take its name from the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory movement and regularly posted glowing remarks about the Republican president; @oliviabrown29 claimed to belong to a Miami-based student journalist who frequently shared posts supportive of Democratic presidential challenger Joseph R. Biden; and @emilysherifff purported to be a Trump supporter and had referenced the president’s remark about the controversial Proud Boys group during Tuesday’s debate.

Twitter was among several social media platforms exploited by foreign actors during the previous White House race in 2016 to sow discord and amplify political misinformation and propaganda.

“The FBI is actively engaged with our federal partners, election officials and the private sector to mitigate foreign threats to our nation’s security and our elections,” the FBI told The Times.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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