Twitter says #ReleaseTheMemo campaign not being driven by Russia

The Daily Beast is reporting that Twitter has discovered very little Russian influence driving the online #ReleaseTheMemo campaign.  The publication's findings directly contradict the accepted wisdom that the campaign is being driven by Russian bots.

In fact, two senior Democrats sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook demanding they investigate the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign for Russian influence.

PJ Media:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Calif.) [sic; Schiff is a Democrat –ed.] want social media companies to probe accounts that have been pushing the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag.  The German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian online influence operations, found Russia-linked accounts' use of the hashtag spiking 233,000 percent in a 48-hour period last week.  WikiLeaks offered a reward to anyone who could obtain and leak the memo.

In a letter today to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Feinstein requested the social media companies' "urgent assistance" on recent "Russian efforts are intended to influence congressional action and undermine Special Counsel Mueller's investigation, which has already resulted in the indictments of two Trump campaign officials and guilty pleas from two others, who are both now cooperating with prosecutors."

"It is critically important that the [s]pecial [c]ounsel's investigation be allowed to proceed without interference from inside or outside the United States," they wrote.  "That is why we seek your assistance in our efforts to counter Russia's continuing efforts to manipulate public opinion and undermine American democracy and the rule of law."

Schiff and Feinstein referred to [House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin] Nunes'[s] memo as "misleading talking points" in a memo that "selectively references and distorts highly classified information."

But despite the conclusion reached by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, Twitter concluded that the online campaign is "organically American" and not Russian propaganda.

Daily Beast:

But a knowledgeable source says that Twitter's internal analysis has thus far found that authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, are driving #ReleaseTheMemo.  There are no preliminary indications that the Twitter activity either driving the hashtag or engaging with it is either predominantly Russian.

In short, according to this source, who would not speak to The Daily Beast for attribution, the retweets are coming from inside the country.

The source pointed to influential American users on the right, including Donald Trump[,] Jr., with his 2.49 million followers, pushing the hashtag forward.  It's become a favorite of far-right Republican congressmen, including Steve King, who claimed [that] the still[ ]secret memo shows [that] the FBI was behaving "worse than Watergate" in one viral tweet.  Mark Meadows called it an "absolutely shocking" display of "FISA abuses," referring to a counterintelligence process.

The authors of the Daily Beast article attach a couple of caveats to Twitter's analysis:

Russian influence accounts did, in fact, send an outsize[d] number of tweets about #ReleaseTheMemo – simply not enough for those accounts to reach the top of Twitter's internal analysis.

It is also still unclear how Twitter is measuring what counts as Russian propaganda.  As The Daily Beast has extensively documented, Russian troll farms use cutout accounts to launder their message in order to appear authentically American.

Similarly, accounts like Trump Jr.'s have vastly more followers than the egg-avatar'ed accounts the Kremlin uses to drop [its] messages into the information bloodstream.  Measuring engagement on a hashtag shows influence that may indeed be authentically American – but can simultaneously obscure the origin of that message.

One would think Twitter has a pretty good idea of the authenticity of domestic tweets, given its past reports that purport to show huge Russian activity during the presidential campaign.  Now, all of a sudden, Twitter is not to be believed?

The news also damages the credibility of the Alliance for Democracy, a German-based outfit that supposedly measures Russian influence on Western politics.  The alliance's reports have been widely quoted in the media, and it has been portrayed as an "expert" on Russian meddling.  Why is its information any better or more accurate than Twitter's?

When Twitter announced that it had discovered thousands of fake accounts linked to Russia attempting to influence the presidential campaign, it was headline news around the world.  So far, this Daily Beast story has caused hardly a ripple.  As evidenced by the letter to Twitter and Facebook sent by Feinstein and Schiff, Democrats will continue to push the narrative that the Russians are behind the campaign to release the FISA memo, and not American citizens who want the truth to come out. 

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