Twitter suspended two accounts Saturday that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has linked to a Russian intelligence operation to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The suspensions come after a dozen Russian intelligence officials were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department Friday on charges that they hacked Democrats’ computers and used fake online personas to distribute the stolen material. The indictments further highlight how social media platforms played an integral part in the Russian disinformation campaign and how tech companies are grappling with how to prevent misuse on their massive networks.
Mueller’s investigation found that Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks were digital fronts created by the intelligence officers to launder hacked information. The conspirators used Twitter and other social media platforms in attempts to influence American voters, the indictment says. It links the Twitter accounts @dcleaks_ and @Guccifer_2 to other nefarious activity in the Russian operation, citing a common networking tool and bitcoin address that were tied to Russian hacking and disinformation efforts.
In a statement Monday a Twitter spokesman said, “The accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of our rules.” Twitter did not elaborate on the earlier suspended accounts and did not say why Guccifer and DCLeaks were not suspended earlier.
In a major U.S. intelligence report released last year, officials said Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU, used the Guccifer persona and two websites to release material that was hacked from the Democrats. And as early as June 2016, cybersecurity experts maintained that the hack of the Democrats’ computer systems was perpetrated by Russian adversaries. The Guccifer persona denied the allegation.
Twitter has responded to increasing pressure to rid its platform of fake and suspicious accounts by drastically ramping up its account suspensions. The company has more than doubled its rate of suspensions since last year, when company executives were grilled by members of Congress about their response to the Russian disinformation campaign that relied on the social network. Twitter has suspended more than 70 million accounts in the past two months in its effort to curb disinformation on its platform.
Twitter claims that 336 million users log into the service each month. About 5 percent of its active users are fake or tied to spam, the company estimates, but outside researchers have said the figure is much higher.
Last week Twitter began removing large numbers of inactive accounts that had been frozen by its security team. The Twitter follower counts of prominent figures such as President Trump and former president Barack Obama shrank by the hundreds of thousands after the removals.