Politico reports: Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election, according to current and former government cybersecurity officials.
Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to promote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, the officials say, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
By creating and deploying armies of automated bots, fake users, catchy hashtags and bogus ad campaigns, unidentified operatives launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated, the officials said. Many U.S. investigators believe that their best hope for identifying who was behind these operations, how they collaborated with one anotherand their suspected links to the Kremlin lies buried within the mountains of data accumulated in recent years by Twitter.
By analyzing Twitter data over time, investigators could establish what one U.S. government cybersecurity consultant described as “pattern of life behavior,” determining when Russian influence operations began, and how they “were trying to nudge the narrative in a certain direction.”
“So if you have access to all this, you can basically see when botnets appeared and disappeared, and how they shaped narrative around certain events,” said the analyst, who could not speak for attribution given company policy.
But a substantial amount of valuable information held by Twitter is lost for good, according to the cybersecurity analysts and other current and former U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]