Enabling further research of information operations on Twitter

Today Twitter are releasing all the accounts and related content associated with potential information operations that they have found on their service since 2016. They had previously disclosed these activities, but are now releasing substantially more information about them to enable independent academic research and investigation.

This is the continuation of our overarching mission to serve the public conversation.

Why are they doing this?

Earlier this year, Twitter committed to the United States Congress and the public to provide regular updates and information regarding their investigation into foreign interference in political conversations on Twitter. Since that time, they have shared examples of these types of content posted on Twitter by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and provided the public with a direct notice if they interacted with these accounts. In August, they also disclosed details of another attempted influence campaign they identified as potentially located within Iran.

In line with Twitter’s strong principles of transparency and with the goal of improving understanding of foreign influence and information campaigns, they are releasing the full, comprehensive archives of the Tweets and media that are connected with these two previously disclosed and potentially state-backed operations on their service. Twitter are making this data available with the goal of encouraging open research and investigation of these behaviours from researchers and academics around the world.

These large datasets comprise 3,841 accounts affiliated with the IRA, originating in Russia, and 770 other accounts, potentially originating in Iran. They include more than 10 million Tweets and more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts, including the earliest on-Twitter activity from accounts connected with these campaigns, dating back to 2009.

What’s next?

It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behaviour will not cease. These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge. For our part, Twitter are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use their services. They will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter, while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation. Their dedicated site integrity team, in partnership with a diverse range of committed organizations and personnel across the company, continue to invest heavily in this area. Twitter are constantly seeking to improve their own ability to detect, understand, and neutralize these campaigns as quickly and robustly as technically possible.

Independent analysis of this activity by researchers is a key step toward promoting shared understanding of these threats. To support this effort, they have provided early access to a small group of researchers with specific expertise in these issues. Working with law enforcement and the authorities will always be their first priority, but they strongly believe that this level of transparency can enhance the health of the public conversation on the internet. This is their singular mission.

To learn more about what is included and how researchers can download the datasets, visit our dedicated Elections Integrity Hub.

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