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Twitter bans ads from Kremlin-funded RT and Sputnik, but they can still tweet

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, the Twitter logo appears on an updated phone pos
Twitter has banned ads from Sputnik and Russia Today, but it will still let the outlets post tweets.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Twitter Inc. said Thursday that it will no longer accept advertising from Sputnik and Russia Today, pointing to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the two Kremlin-funded news organizations were part a Russian government operation to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Also on Thursday, Twitter reported its third-quarter earnings, which caused its stock to surge more than 18%.

State-sponsored attempts to “interfere with and disrupt” the election are “not something we want on Twitter,” the San Francisco social media company said on its blog.

Twitter said it will donate the $1.9 million in advertising revenue it has obtained since 2011 from Russia Today to outside research about Twitter’s use in “civic engagement and elections.”

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Sputnik and Russia Today, also known as RT, won’t lose their ability to post to Twitter — meaning they can continue using the service to circulate articles, videos and opinion pieces.

Twitter’s move comes as social media platforms face increased scrutiny for their failure to stop bots, foreign governments and anonymous ads from spreading misinformation and propaganda. Twitter and Facebook have both pledged to increase transparency surrounding political ads.

Sputnik and Russia Today face pressure to register in the U.S. as foreign agents. Both say they are legitimate news-gathering organizations, and both fired back at Twitter on Thursday.

Sputnik published an article in which Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan called Twitter’s decision “regrettable.” The article also quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying his government would react to U.S. restrictions on Russian media “swiftly and symmetrically.”

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In a post published Thursday, Russia Today Deputy Editor in Chief Kirill Karnovich-Valua said the outlet “never pursued an agenda of influencing the U.S. election through any platforms, including Twitter.” The article goes on to chronicle what it describes as Twitter’s attempts to encourage Russia Today to commit to a major advertising initiative to help increase its U.S. audience during the 2016 election.

Twitter and Russia Today negotiated a media strategy that, according to the post, could have included giving the outlet early access to Twitter features, a “customized emoji-hashtag that would help RT stand out with special election coverage” and access to a “dedicated team of Twitter experts.” Russia Today says it eventually rejected the tie-up because it was too expensive.

According to Twitter, Russia Today spent $274,100 in U.S.-based advertising in 2016. Banning future ads from the company and Sputnik is unlikely to have a substantial financial impact on Twitter, which on Thursday reported third-quarter revenue of $589.6 million.

Twitter shares surged 18.5% on Thursday to $20.31, thanks to better-than-expected adjusted profit. Excluding one-time expenses, Twitter earned 10 cents a share, exceeding expectations by 2 cents.

Investors were not scared off by Twitter’s acknowledgment that since 2014 it has overestimated its monthly active users.

For each of the first two quarters of 2017, Twitter reduced its monthly active users by 2 million, adjusting the total to 327 million in the first quarter and 326 million in the second quarter. Twitter reversed that slide in monthly active users in its third quarter, reporting a total of 330 million.

ben.muessig@latimes.com

Twitter: benmuessig

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UPDATES:

3:45 p.m.: This article was updated with Twitter shares’ closing price.

10:35 a.m.: This article was updated to include more earnings information and the news that Twitter has overestimated its monthly active users since 2014.

This article was originally published at 9:55 a.m.


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