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Twitter Releases Details of Russian and Iranian Trolling

News Brief

Twitter has released a trove of more than 10 million tweets that it says were linked to Russian and Iranian state-backed trolling operations, in what it calls an act of “transparency” aimed at improving public understanding of alleged foreign influence campaigns.”

In a statement published online, the U.S.-based company said that most of the tweets came from 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg, which has been linked to a series of online operations, including hacking the 2016 U.S. election.

About one million tweets were tied to 770 accounts that Twitter said it had identified as originating from state-backed trolls in Iran. Its public release also included several memes and other images from the tweets.

The social media giant first disclosed the accounts earlier this year, when it suspended them. But it now says it wants researchers to have full access to the data to help gain a better understanding of how such trolling operations work.

Experts say the tweet archive shows that both the Iranian and Russian operations started out as campaigns to support their governments at home. The Russian campaign was then transformed into an “offensive weapon” targeted at the United States, said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which was given an early look at the archive.

“The Iranian operation was clumsy,” he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency. “It tried to use social media to draw people towards pro-regime messaging sites,” said Nimmo.

“The Russian operation was much more skilled,” he added. “It masqueraded as real Americans to turn real Americans against Hillary Clinton, and against each other.”