Banned Twitter accounts including Donald Trump’s will not be reinstated until after the US midterm elections at least, the platform’s new owner, Elon Musk, has said.
The Tesla chief executive’s statement came as a study revealed that Twitter had taken down six disinformation networks on the platform linked to China and Iran that had been tweeting about the 8 November elections.
Musk said anyone barred from the social media platform for violating content rules would not be allowed back on until a process for doing so has been put in place, which would “take at least a few more weeks”.
Twitter’s new owner added that the recently announced Twitter content moderation council, which will adjudicate on reinstatements and content decisions, will include members of the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fuelled violence.
Musk said the figures he had spoken to included Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, Rashad Robinson of the advocacy group Color of Change and Jessica González of the campaign group Free Press.
Those banned from Twitter include Trump, who was removed from the platform after the US Capitol riot on 6 January 2021, the personal account of the Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Meanwhile, a report by the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of bodies that combats digital election interference, gave details of six networks linked to China and Iran that had attempted to manipulate the Twitter platform in the run-up to the US midterms.
All six networks, which have been taken down now by Twitter, were made to appear as if they were operating out of the US. They issued 706,000 tweets, although engagement appeared to be insignificant, with almost 600,000 of those tweets gaining zero likes.
Three of the accounts were Iran-linked and focused on progressive leftwing candidates, according to the study, while the three China-linked accounts included content about US politicians’ comments on Taiwan and China.
One of the China-linked networks consisted primarily of rightwing accounts that referred to talking points such as the “big lie” – a baseless theory that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. One Iran-backed account also issued endorsements for candidates in down-ballot polls such as county commissioner.
One China-linked network tweeted about US politics via accounts that used fake rightwing, pro-Trump American personas, using language familiar deployed by “Maga” online communities including references to rigged elections and the businessman George Soros. The three most-liked tweets on this network, with more than 10,000 likes each, included one congratulating the Republican senate candidate Herschel Walker on his nomination.
Another China-linked network, which sent 310,000 tweets, including more than 1,100 on Joe Biden’s position on Taiwan as well as remarks on the president’s age and cognitive abilities. The accounts in the network also downplayed human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The report added that the network made “scattered” references to the US midterms.
One Iran-linked network used accounts that impersonated “resistance” liberals’ opinions with hashtags on their bios including “#Democrat #Resist #antiracist #BLM #LGBTQIA+ #Equality”. Content shared by the accounts focused on issues such as Trump and Palestine.
The research was based on data released by Twitter and was carried out by the Digital Forensic Research Lab – part of the Atlantic Council, a US research group – and Stanford University’s Internet Observatory.
“Despite the comparatively small number of engagements that these networks achieved, operations such as these reinforce that foreign interference is ongoing, and that platform integrity teams working alongside researchers to find, assess, and disrupt these manipulative operations remains critical to stopping them while they are still small,” the study said.
The report was flagged by Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, who tweeted: “This is exactly what we (or any company) should be doing in the midst of a corporate transition to reduce opportunities for insider risk. We’re still enforcing our rules at scale.”