RT lifts lid on Twitter ad pitch
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.