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Twitter Deleted Data Possibly Crucial to Russia Probes: Politico

  • Strict privacy policy led to removal of some information
  • Now Twitter believed to be one of Russia’s most potent weapons

Twitter Inc. deleted tweets and other user data that could be valuable to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media site during the 2016 U.S. election, Politico reported, citing unidentified current and former government cybersecurity officials.

Unidentified operatives created armies of automated bots, fake users, hashtags and bogus ad campaigns and launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated, Politico reported. U.S. investigators were hoping to identify who was behind the operations, how they cooperated with each other and their suspected ties to the Kremlin, by sifting through reams of data accumulated in recent years by Twitter, Politico said.

But a substantial amount of valuable information has been lost for good, Politico said, citing the cybersecurity analysts and current and former U.S. officials.

One reason why is Twitter’s pro-consumer privacy policies, which in general say that once a user changes or deletes a tweet, paid promotion or entire accounts, the company must do so too, the news site said. Another reason is that Russian cyber operatives immediately erase all of their digital breadcrumbs, Politico reported, citing former FBI Executive Assistant Director Robert Anderson and others familiar with Russian influence operations.

Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to tip the election to Trump over Clinton, Politico reported.

Twitter, Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google all have been called to testify in Congressional hearings about Russian influence operations on Nov. 1. Twitter executives have been in frequent contact with Congressional committees and investigators to try to answer their questions before then, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company is addressing the issue from multiple angles, the person said, including asking engineers to examine spam use on the platform and asking its business teams to delve into advertising purchases by RT, the Russian TV network.