Twitter bans ads from RT and Sputnik over alleged election meddling

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Twitter has banned Russian media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik from advertising on its service, citing a U.S. intelligence report that claimed the outlets were involved in alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election.

“This decision is restricted to these two entities based on our internal investigation of their behavior as well as their inclusion in the January 2017 DNI report. This decision does not apply to any other advertisers,” the company said in a statement, adding that both outlets may continue to use Twitter.

“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 statement said.

The company referenced a report released in January by the U.S. intelligence community, which alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government had developed “a clear preference” for presidential candidate Donald Trump, who went on to win the election.

“Russia’s state-run propaganda machine – comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls – contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging,” the U.S. report claimed.

It added: “State-owned Russian media made increasingly favorable comments about [Trump] as the 2016 US general and primary election campaigns progressed while consistently offering negative coverage of Secretary Clinton.”

In an email sent to RT, a senior executive said Twitter believes in “freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power,” but added that advertisers face “greater limitations” because their advertisements can reach an audience beyond their followers.

Twitter said RT has spent about $1.9 million in global advertising since it became a partner in 2011, which includes $274,100 in U.S.-targeted advertising in 2016 alone. Three accounts – @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT – promoted 1,823 tweets in 2016 that targeted the U.S. market.

RT, which is funded by the Russian government, has denied allegations that it sought to influence the U.S. election, arguing that it published unfavorable stories about all of the candidates. It also disclosed that Twitter had offered RT a “large ad buy” for the election, but that the channel declined the offer.

“I never thought that Twitter is under the control of the U.S. security services – it seemed like a conspiracy theory. But now Twitter appears to have admitted it,” RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan told state-run media, calling Twitter’s decision “highly regrettable.”

Russia’s foreign ministry condemned Twitter’s decision as a “gross violation” of freedom of speech. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the move as “yet another aggressive step” against RT as a result of “pressure” from the U.S. intelligence agencies.

“There will of course be measures in response,” Zakharova said, providing no further details.

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