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Twitter banning ads from Russia-funded media outlets

Twitter banning ads from Russia-funded media outlets
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Twitter will no longer run ads from Russian-funded news outlets RT and Sputnik, the company announced Thursday.

The move came hours after RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, said that Twitter had pitched her outlet on buying election ads, a claim later followed up by an article on RT.com.

“This decision was based on the retrospective work we've been doing around the 2016 U.S. election and the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government,” Twitter said in a blog post Thursday morning.

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“We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter.”

RT and Sputnik will still be allowed to use their Twitter accounts but will no longer be able to promote tweets or run ads on the platform.

Twitter revealed that it had earned $1.9 million in ad revenue from RT since 2011, including $274,000 in 2016. The company said it would be donating that money to “support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections, including use of malicious automation and misinformation, with an initial focus on elections and automation.”

Twitter’s general counsel will be testifying before the House and Senate Intelligence committees next week as part of Congress’s investigation into the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Officials from Google and Facebook, which have both reported 2016 ads sponsored by Russian actors, have also agreed to testify.

Simonyan, from her own account, said RT had been "an exemplary Twitter partner" and that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey should tell lawmakers about a company pitch for 2016 ads, including what appears to be a screenshot of the pitch.

Shortly after Twitter's announcement, RT published a story titled "How Twitter pushed RT to spend big on 2016 US election," an offer it says it declined. 

In the article, RT says it "never violated any rules while advertising on Twitter" and "has never dealt with, and will never deal with, bots" on social media platforms. 

“RT has never spread any sort of deliberate misinformation. If we had, RT would have been banned by any social media platform in question, as all of them have strict rules regarding policy violations,” the outlet wrote.

Twitter declined to address the claims directly.

"We do not have any comment on our private conversations with any advertiser, even a former advertiser," a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill.

Twitter also declined to say whether it had told Congress about any sales pitches it may have made to RT.

Last month, Twitter briefed congressional investigators on its own investigation of Russia’s attempts to use the platform to influence the election. Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, later called the briefing “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate on almost every level.”

This week, the company announced a series of changes to its advertising rules, promising more transparency disclosures about political ads that support specific candidates.