Social Media

Twitter Files: Employees Knew the Media's Favorite Russian Bots List Was Fake

"I think we need to just call this out on the bullshit it is."


The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) is a nonprofit organization that leverages the purported expertise of former U.S. national intelligence officials to identify Russian influence on social media. Its advisory council includes the neoconservative writer Bill Kristol, Hillary Clinton campaign official John Podesta, and various former employees of national security agencies.

ASD maintains Hamilton 68, a dashboard that monitors the accounts of 600 Twitter accounts alleged to be Russian bots. The dashboard was highly regarded by the mainstream media: Favorable coverage of ASD's work appeared in Politico ("The Russian Bots Are Coming. This Bipartisan Duo Is On It."), The Washington Post ("Russia-linked accounts are tweeting their support of embattled Fox News host Laura Ingraham"), and elsewhere.

But according to new revelations uncovered by independent journalist Matt Taibbi as part of the Twitter Files, the accounts on ASD's list weren't Russian bots. Moreover, Twitter content moderators knew the list was inaccurate but were reluctant to criticize it due to fears of bad press.

Indeed, Taibbi published screenshots of several emails that show Twitter's former trust and safety czar, Yoel Roth, discovering the list was wrong. The dashboard "falsely accuses a bunch of legitimate right-leaning accounts of being Russian bots," he wrote. "I think we need to just call this out on the bullshit it is."

Ultimately, Roth did not publicly denounce the list as bullshit—in part because other Twitter employees dissuaded him. "We have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly," said one communications official.

Taibbi notes that several of the officials who advised against a public confrontation with ASD eventually left Twitter to work for Democratic political figures.

This is all extremely damning. An organization with ties to the U.S. national security apparatus falsely portrayed a bunch of mostly right-leaning, Trump-supporting Twitter content as nefarious and Russian in origin. The mainstream media eagerly peddled this incorrect narrative. And Twitter wavered on pushing back because elite sentiment was so disposed to imagine Russian operatives hiding behind every curtain.