Twitter Inc on Thursday banned advertisements from accounts owned by Russian media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, citing allegations by US intelligence agencies that the two had tried to interfere with the 2016 US election.
RT and Sputnik condemned the decision, saying Twitter had encouraged ad spending, while Russia’s foreign ministry said the ban was the result of US government pressure and that it was planning a response.
San Francisco-based Twitter said in an unsigned statement on its website that election meddling is “not something we want” on the social network and that it had also done its own investigations of RT and Sputnik.
“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,” the company said.
Twitter said it would take the estimated $1.9 million it had earned from RT global advertising since 2011 and donate the money “to support external research into the use of Twitter in civic engagement and elections.”
The company said it would allow RT and Sputnik to maintain regular, non-ad Twitter accounts in accordance with its rules.
In addition to Twitter, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have recently detected that suspected Russian operatives used their platforms last year to purchase ads and post content that was politically divisive. Russia has denied interfering in the election.
Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to questions about whether they would limit Russia media ad spending.
RT, an English-language news channel, fired back at Twitter on Thursday, saying on its website that Twitter’s sales staff had pressured the Russian outlet in 2016 to spend big on advertising ahead of the election.
“The more money RT spent, the bigger the reach to American voters that Twitter would provide,” RT said, describing the Twitter sales pitch.
Twitter declined to comment on any discussions with advertisers. Ad-supported social media firms including Twitter generally employ sales staff to drive sales.
RT also said on its website that it had never been involved in illegal activity online and “never pursued an agenda of influencing the U.S. election through any platforms, including Twitter.”
Sputnik, a news agency, said on its website that Twitter’s move was regrettable, “especially now that Russia had vowed retaliatory measures against the US media.” It did not elaborate.
Twitter said last month it had suspended about 200 Russian-linked accounts as it investigates propaganda efforts related to last year’s election race.