Twitter releases datasets on influence campaigns originating in Russia and Iran

These large datasets comprise 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

With the goal of improving understanding of how foreign influence campings operate on Twitter, the microblogging site has now released massive datasets of accounts linked to potential influence campaigns originating in Russia and Iran.

These large datasets released this week comprise 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), originating in Russia, and 770 other accounts, potentially originating in Iran.

Totalling over 360 gigabytes  including more than 10 million Tweets and more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts the data store provides a picture of how state-sponsored agencies have used the Twitter platform, technology news website Ars Technica reported on 19 October.

Representational image.

Representational image.

IRA allegedly ran information campaigns on several social media platforms to undermine the political process in the 2016 US presidential election.

With Twitter coming under scrutiny for its failure to stop the spread of misinformation during the election, the microblogging site, earlier this year, committed to the US Congress and the public to provide regular updates and information regarding its investigation into foreign interference in political conversations on Twitter.

Since that time, Twitter has shared examples of these types of content posted on Twitter by IRA and provided the public with a direct notice if they interacted with these accounts.

In August this year, Twitter also disclosed details of another attempted influence campaign it identified as potentially located within Iran.

The datasets released this week are aimed at enabling independent academic research and investigation into the nature of foreign influence campaigns, Twitter said.

"We are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services. We will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation," Twitter said.

A preliminary look at the data by Ars Technica revealed that a common tactic used by the IRA was to create "local news" accounts for major US cities, seeding them with posts linking to local news outlets.

The accounts, such as "Atlanta Online," "Baltimore Online," "Baton Rouge Voice," "Chicago Daily News," and "Dallas Top News" would also include tweet-length news headlines with no link, the report said.

Twitter said if it identifies additional attempted information operations on Twitter in the future, it will release similar datasets in a timely fashion after completing its investigations.

"We may also release incremental additions to existing datasets if we believe the additional information could materially impact research findings," Twitter said.

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