Twitter froze suspicious accounts linked to Iran, Russia, and Venezuela ahead of 2018 U.S. midterms

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Today, Twitter released a report dealing some of the unusual activity and disinformation campaigns it spotted before and after the 2018 U.S. midterms. Overall, Twitter said that it found a small number of domestic attempts at voter suppression, and that it suspended hundreds of suspicious accounts believed to be spreading disinformation and originating in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela in the days leading up to the midterms.

Twitter said that overall, it found less suspicious activity from bad-faith foreign actors compared to the 2016 U.S. elections, but that “our role, as ever, is to do our best to stay one step ahead while remaining humble in the face of potential new challenges.”

Twitter, along with Facebook, had previously removed large batches of suspicious accounts with ties to Russia and Iran before the 2018 elections — the Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency in particular has become infamous for its role in spreading disinformation on social platforms before the 2016 elections. However, disinformation campaigns originating from Venezuela have not previously been discussed at length by the large social platforms. Today’s report appears to show that more accounts in more countries are trying to develop their own disinformation playbook.

In its report, Twitter said that it has recently removed 764 accounts originating in Venezuela that had engaged in “malicious automation.” Most of them were suspended prior to the 2018 U.S. midterms, but 176 of these accounts sent approximately 50,000 tweets regarding the U.S. midterms.  Twitter said that the uncovered accounts are “another example of a foreign campaign of spammy content focused on political themes, and the behavior we uncovered is similar to that utilized by prior Russian IRA accounts.” According to NBC News, many of the accounts tweeted in favor of president Nicolás Maduro.

Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, had previously announced that they had removed hundreds of Iranian propaganda accounts in August 2018. However, Twitter also said today that since September, it has suspended an additional 2,617 malicious accounts believed to have been started in Iran. Twitter said that the accounts sent 24,000 Tweets about the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, but that those only represent 1 percent of all the Tweets sent by those accounts.

Facebook also announced today that it had uncovered further “coordinated inauthentic behavior” tied to Iran, and that it was tipped off to its existence by Twitter.

Twitter also said that it had removed 418 suspicious accounts with ties to Russia, the majority of which were suspended prior to the 2018 midterms. Those accounts sent more Tweets about U.S. politics compared to the other two batches of suspicious accounts, tweeting the #MAGA hashtag (which refers to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan) 38,000 times.

Twitter also said it found and removed 6,000 tweets that attempted to spread false information about how to vote in the midterms.