Twitter will no longer allow Russian media firms Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik to advertise on its platform, citing evidence that both outlets attempted to interfere in last year’s US election on behalf of the Russian government.
Twitter explained its decision in a blog, saying it was based on the internal research it carried out since 2016 presidential election, along with the US intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik had been involved in trying to influence the outcome of the vote.
Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey has said it will invest the $1.9m it is projected to have earned from RT global advertising since the Russian state-owned broadcaster signed on as a client in 2011 in external research into the role the social platform can play in civic engagement and elections.
Off-boarding advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik.
We’re donating all projected earnings ($1.9mm) to support external research into the use of Twitter in elections, including use of malicious automation and misinformation. https://t.co/zIxfqqXCZr
— jack (@jack) October 26, 2017
The move means both publishers will not be able to advertise within Twitter’s walls, but will still be able to push out content natively via their branded profiles. “We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter,” the company said in a statement. RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan has slammed the move on Twitter, questioning whether Dorsey would explain to the US government why it had reportedly asked the publisher to invest in election ads.
Hope @jack won’t forget to tell @congressdotgov how @Twitter pitched @RT_com to spend big $$s on US elex ad campaign. pic.twitter.com/7GqoEoSaY8 — Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) October 26, 2017
RT has published an entire blog full of allegations running contrary to Twitter's claims.
"At the end of September, Twitter published a report titled ‘Russian interference in 2016 US elections, bots, and misinformation’ which included confidential data on RT ad campaigns and implied that the channel was trying to influence Twitter users via advertising on the platform," it read.
"This absolutely groundless and greatly-misleading association compels us to reveal the details of the 2016 negotiations during which Twitter representatives pitched to RT a large-sum advertising proposal," the post alleged.
Sputnik's press office told The Drum: “Sputnik has never used paid for promotion on Twitter," and published a blog post calling Twitter's decision "regrettable".
The play from Twitter comes amid increasing pressure on itself, Facebook and Google to better police fake news on their platforms.
Amid increased public awareness, and the launch of the Honest Ads act in the US, there have also been calls for social media services to be more transparent about political advertising. Just last week, Twitter pledged to ensure that all election ads are marked as such, and that it has signaled to potential voters which parties and groups had bought the ad space.