Twitter suspends bot network that pushed pro-Saudi fake news

Twitter suspends bot network that pushed pro-Saudi fake news
A network of bots that pushed pro-Saudi tweets has been taken down by Twitter.
2 min read
19 October, 2018
Twitter has been used for spreading pro-Saudi messages [Getty]

Twitter identified and suspended a network of bots on Thursday that pushed out pro-Saudi tweets, following the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi two weeks ago.

Hundreds of fake profiles had been promoting Saudi narratives - through tweets and retweets - about the alleged killing of Khashoggi until it was discovered by Twitter this week following a NBC News probe.

A spreadsheet containing hundreds of accounts that simultaneously pushed a pro-Saudi government line about the Khashoggi disappearance was presented to the social media giant by the US broadcaster.

Twitter was apparently aware of a disinformation campaign by Saudi Arabia on the platform and said they had suspended a number of pro-Riyadh accounts due to violating rules over spam.

"They're posting the same stuff at the same time repeatedly - that's a botnet," Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab told NBC

"Looking at these accounts, they're all posting the same content in the same order."

The bots selected particular times to post these messages rather than issue a constant barrage of tweets mirroring the Saudi line over the incident.

Khashoggi disappeared on 2 October after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish sources have leaked reports to media that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered inside the diplomatic compound.

Some anonymous Turkish intelligence agents claimed that powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly ordered the killing.

The crown prince has been under pressure from media, such as the Washington Post and New York Times, with a number of business figures cutting ties with MbS - as he is also known - following reports of Khashoggi's murder.

Mohammed bin Salman was perceived as a reformer in some Western circles, but the Khashoggi episode has tarnished his image.

Western ministers are boycotting an investment forum due to take place in Riyadh later this month over the alleged killing of the Saudi journalist.

The pro-Saudi bots discovered by NBC used the hashtag #We_all_trust_Mohammad_Bin_Salman according to the broadcaster.

They also suggested that there was a campaign from outside Saudi Arabia against the kingdom and crown prince.

Khashoggi was one of the Arab world's best-known journalists, and had been critical of the growing suppression inside Saudi Arabia under bin Salman.

Mohammed bin Salman rose to power in 2015 and is now thought to be running Saudi Arabia for his elderly father King Salman.