Twitter meets with congressional Russia investigators Thursday

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Story highlights

  • Growing evidence shows foreign governments used Twitter to try to influence public opinion during the 2016 US election
  • There is a difference in how Facebook and Twitter are reacting to the reports of Russian election meddling

(CNN)Officials from Twitter will trek to Capitol Hill on Thursday to talk to congressional Russia investigators about how Russian-linked accounts may have used the social media platform to try to sway the 2016 election.

Twitter officials are meeting behind closed doors with House and Senate intelligence committee staff to discuss Russian efforts to use Twitter during the 2016 election, as well as potential changes ahead of the next US election cycle, according to intelligence committee sources.
Twitter is the second social media company to meet with the congressional panels investigating Russia's election meddling, as Facebook also briefed the Senate and House intelligence committees. Facebook later disclosed it had discovered it sold $100,000 worth of election ads to Russian-linked accounts, which it has pledged to share with the congressional committees soon.
    Facebook, Twitter and Google parent company Alphabet have been invited to testify at a November 1 public hearing before the Senate intelligence committee, sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The House intelligence committee also said it would hold an open forum with tech companies next month.
    Twitter's meeting with the committees Thursday comes amid mounting pressure on regulators and Silicon Valley companies to open up the opaque world of online political ads.
    Twitter declined to comment about what it planned to tell the committees.
    The committees are eager to hear more from the social media company about how much Twitter knows about Russian activity on its platform.
    As with Facebook, there is growing evidence that foreign governments, including Russia, used Twitter to try and influence public opinion during the 2016 US election. Part of the Russian propaganda campaign during the election involved the creation of an entire army of trolls and automated "bots" on Twitter, which together overwhelmingly supported one candidate, according to two reports by US intelligence agencies.
    There is a difference in how Facebook and Twitter are reacting to the reports of Russian election meddling. While Facebook says it is working to prevent future misuse of its platform, Twitter says its plan is to let its open forum service fix itself. Twitter says it will not screen accounts based on political content -- though it does shut down accounts tied to terrorism, hate-related violence, and child pornography.
    "Twitter's open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information," Twitter's vice president of public policy, Colin Crowell, wrote in a June blog post. "This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not. We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth."
    Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, said that the distinctions between Twitter and Facebook -- namely anonymity on the site -- mean the committee will have a different set of questions.
    "They have never tried to prevent fake accounts, use of bots. They don't deny -- they have allowed and expect more anonymity," Warner said. "Since they've got a different business model, we've got different questions for them, but it's still ultimately about people manipulating these platforms in a way that sways elections where Americans don't know the source or funding of these campaigns."
    Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Twitter needs to disclose how much they know about the accounts linked to Russian troll farms.
    "I think we need to understand how they keep their records, whether they know who's been utilizing their platforms," King told CNN. "We're not invading anybody's privacy, but if like Facebook they can somehow determine there were thousands of accounts from Russia, I think we should know that."
    Facebook officials have already briefed the Senate and House intelligence panels, and lawmakers complained they were less than forthcoming in that session after Facebook later disclosed it had discovered it had sold 3,000 election ads to Russian-linked inauthentic accounts.
    Warner said he hoped Twitter would be more cooperative.
    "My hope is that they will be very forthcoming, because I think they can see that it took Facebook a while," the Virginia Democrat said. "I hope they'll be more forthcoming in their first visit."
    Senate intelligence chairman Richard Burr said he hopes to have a public hearing with Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies in the next month to month and a half.
    "I think we're looking at the space in trying to determine how many would be a good sampling that we need to talk to," Burr said. "Clearly, it's the bigger companies we think might have been used, and we're working with them to acquire the type of data that we need to look at a public hearing that we can cover for the American people to disseminate for the purposes of the next election cycle what if any changes need to be made."