RT lifts lid on Twit­ter ad pitch

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

RT has re­leased Twit­ter’s elec­tion ad­ver­tis­ing sales pitch, which shows the so­cial me­dia com­pany vy­ing for mil­lions of dol­lars from the Rus­sian state-funded news out­let in the runup to the 2016 United States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The pub­li­ca­tion of the pitch comes af­ter Twit­ter an­nounced it would stop tak­ing ad­ver­tis­ing from all ac­counts owned by RT, for­merly Rus­sia To­day, and Sput­nik, an­other Krem­lin-linked news out­let, as US law­mak­ers con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the im­pact of for­eign­spon­sored ‘‘in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions’’ on the elec­tion.

Twit­ter said its de­ci­sion was based on its own in­ves­ti­ga­tions and the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that both RT and Sput­nik at­tempted to in­ter­fere with the elec­tion on be­half of the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

RT pub­lished Twit­ter’s slide deck to ‘‘set the record straight’’ and high­light how Twit­ter had pushed hard to get the Rus­sian news or­gan­i­sa­tion to spend mil­lions on the plat­form to ex­pand the reach of its elec­tion cov­er­age through a pack­age of ads, in­clud­ing pro­moted tweets, videos and cus­tomised emo­jis.

It also said Twit­ter failed to ac­knowl­edge that ‘‘vir­tu­ally all news me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions spend money on ad­ver­tis­ing their news cov­er­age’’.

The dis­pute comes at at a time when Face­book, Google and Twit­ter are un­der in­tense scru­tiny by the US gov­ern­ment for al­low­ing Rus­sia-based groups to buy po­lit­i­cal ads tar­get­ing US vot­ers. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the three com­pa­nies have been asked to ap­pear on Novem­ber 1 for hear­ings called by the US Se­nate and House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees.

In Septem­ber, Face­book iden­ti­fied a Rus­sian-backed in­flu­ence op­er­a­tion that spent US$100,000 on ads pro­mot­ing di­vi­sive and po­lit­i­cal mes­sages over a two-year pe­riod. Twit­ter and Google found sim­i­lar ac­tiv­ity on their own plat­forms.

While the bud­gets were rel­a­tively small in the con­text of elec­tion ad spend­ing, the ac­tiv­ity high­lighted the lack of due dili­gence from the plat­forms’ ad­ver­tis­ing op­er­a­tions and the ways they were used to in­flu­ence the elec­tion.

This week, Twit­ter and Face­book an­nounced mea­sures to im­prove trans­parency around ad­ver­tis­ing on their plat­forms. Siva Vaid­hyanathan, a me­dia stud­ies pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, said this did not ad­dress the core prob­lem.

The de­sign of the plat­forms made it ‘‘ex­tremely easy for na­tional, anti-demo­cratic and pro-au­thor­i­tar­ian groups to hi­jack th­ese sys­tems to­ward their own ends’’, us­ing data-in­ten­sive tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing, he said. A crack­down on such tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing could make a dif­fer­ence, but the US gov­ern­ment was ‘‘in­ca­pable of ex­e­cut­ing harsh reg­u­la­tion on th­ese com­pa­nies’’. Part of the prob­lem was that it had be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for users to dis­tin­guish be­tween ads and user­gen­er­ated con­tent.

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