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Twitter Re-Activated an Account It Told Congress Was Connected to a Russian Troll Farm

Robert Delaware got his account back after the company misidentified him as a Russian troll, but Twitter won't say if this could have happened to others.

Louise Matsakis

Louise Matsakis

Image: Shutterstock / Composition: Louise Matsakis

We can say for certain now that at least one real person was accidentally swept up in Twitter's investigation into how Russia used its platform to influence US politics.

Twitter mistakenly identified an account belonging to an American named Robert Delaware as linked to a Russian troll farm. In October, it suspended Delaware's account and sent record of it to Congress as evidence of Russian interference. After Motherboard ran a story last week highlighting the mistake, Twitter reactivated the account.

The company initially told me that it was "confident in the methodology" it used to surface accounts connected to Russia. Twitter declined to comment about why it re-instated Delaware's account, and wouldn't say whether other accounts in a list it sent to Congress may have also been misidentified.

Representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter testified at several open hearings on Capitol Hill last week about how Russian-linked trolls used their platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election and sow political unrest. As part of that process, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a list of 2,754 suspended Twitter accounts the company believes are linked to a Russian troll farm.

At least one of those accounts, @RobbyDelaware, has been reactivated because it was incorrectly identified. According to emails sent to Delaware by Twitter, his account was erroneously labeled as a spam account by mistake.

"We are confident in the methodology described in our written testimony to surface accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency. We encourage all Twitter users to take steps to reinforce security on their accounts, including enabling two-factor authentication, and to file a support request if they believe their account may have been compromised," a Twitter spokesperson told me in an email when we ran our first story.

I reached out to Twitter to ask if it still stood by its methodology now that Delaware's account had been re-activated. I also asked if it planned to amend the list that it sent to Congress, in order to remove Delaware from the Congressional record. A spokesperson declined to comment.

"I do [not] want to be listed with Congress as a Russian bot," Delaware told me in a Twitter direct message.