Days after being banned from advertising on Twitter, Kremlin-backed media outlet RT has shared details about the content of its advertisements in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.
On Thursday, Twitter announced it would be banning ads from all accounts owned by Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, citing “the retrospective work we've been doing around the 2016 US election and the US intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government.”
“In the wake of the Twitter report we went back to see ... what the top tweets were that we were promoting during ” said Anna Belkina, director of marketing and strategic development at RT. She claimed repeatedly that the news outlet’s promoted content “never focused specifically on any election-related matter.”
Belkina said RT paid to advertise its own content on the platform — and shared some examples exclusively with PRI’s The World. PRI was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the list provided by Belkina.
“We have here an op-ed in response to ... John Kerry's comments on media coverage of terrorism,” Belkina said, going down a list of RT’s top promoted content. “We have a piece on the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, the latest developments here near Mosul in Iraq, the John Pilger exclusive interview with Julian Assange.”
Given the content and title of the interview with Assange (“Secret World of US Election”), we asked Belkina whether she could really say none of RT’s promoted content was related to the 2016 US presidential election.
"As you can see, [the tweet] doesn’t even mention the election. And as I said, it was just one example among a wide range of promoted tweets, most of which dealt with other subjects. I never said that there wasn’t a single story related to the election among those (after all, we obviously did cover the election) — just that the election wasn’t by any measure a focus of the campaign, and any claim otherwise is completely false," she wrote.
Twitter disclosed in September that RT spent $274,100 on US ads in 2016.
Belkina says RT has not yet published its list of US Twitter ads ”but we probably are going to ... in the near future in some way.”
RT has published documents that the company claims outline an aggressive push by Twitter to get RT to increase its advertising on the platform in the months leading up to the 2016 election.
Twitter and other US-based technology companies are at the center of congressional investigations into Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
According to several reports, people working for the Internet Research Agency — Russia’s most infamous troll farm — purchased thousands of Facebook ads to elevate content on divisive issues and drive traffic back to fake pages promoting that content. The pages ultimately amassed large followings, and even recruited US-based activists to stage events to fuel tensions across the country. Kremlin-aligned operatives are also believed to have been behind efforts to deploy hundreds of Twitter bots to spread propaganda during the 2016 presidential election.
Representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter are expected to testify before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday about the role the companies played in the 2016 presidential race.