Twitter released a comprehensive look at millions of tweets, pictures, and videos from Russian and Iranian trolls on Wednesday, who looked to sow civil discord both at domestically and in the United States.
The San Francisco-based company said it was sharing the information in the interest of transparency and to foster “independent analysis” from researchers. Both Twitter and Facebook have come under fire from U.S. lawmakers for its inability to thwart political manipulation during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Altogether, 3,841 accounts linked to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, and another 770 accounts tied to Iran, were released, totaling about 12 million tweets. The Iranian tweets, according to Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, were primarily focused on state politics in Iran, while the Russian tweets had multiple goals, including exacerbating “racial, ethnic, religious and gender divides” in the U.S.
There were plenty of political tweets and memes sent, running through a greatest hits selection of modern politicians: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Angela Merkel.
Here’s a look at two examples of troll tweets:
The accounts didn’t take a hardline stance on most political issues. Instead, they looked to foster dissension with both pro-Trump and anti-Trump tweets, tweets in favor and against former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem. “Rosa Parks took a seat. We must #TakeTheKnee,” one troll account tweeted.
The Russian troll accounts were about division. They posted on both sides of the most divisive debates in the US.
— Ben Nimmo (@benimmo) October 17, 2018
Many others, though, were apolitical, using “The Simpsons,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” and even “Braveheart” memes to grow their followers. Twitter, along with Facebook, removed hundreds of Russian and Iranian accounts for “inauthentic behavior” in August.
Moving forward, Twitter said that “it is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge.” The company added it’ll continue “to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter.”
If you’d like to take a deep dive on the millions of Russian and Iranian troll tweets, you can download the data set from Twitter here.