Twitter shuts down over 6,000 accounts involved in Saudi state-backed 'information operation'

Twitter shuts down over 6,000 accounts involved in Saudi state-backed 'information operation'
In a blog post on Friday, Twitter announced it suspended over 6,000 accounts at the centre of a state-backed 'information operation' network linked to Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
20 December, 2019
Twitter describes the state-backed operation originating from Saudi Arabia as "significant" [Getty]
Twitter announced on Friday that it has closed down approximately 6,000 accounts deemed part of a significant "state-backed information operation" which originated in Saudi Arabia.

The social networking giant reported that the accounts amplified "messages favourable to Saudi authorities", targeting discussions related to Saudi Arabia and those which furthered its geopolitical interests

Through "inauthentic engagement tactics" such as aggressively favouriting tweets, retweeting and replying, the hostile activity amounted to a major violation of the site's "platform manipulation policies," Twitter wrote in a public blog post. 

The accounts suspended were at the centre of a wider network of nearly 90,000 accounts that were engaged in "spammy behaviour".

As of Friday, Twitter has not disclosed all of them, for fear some may be compromised accounts.

This is not the first time Twitter has ordered the closure of thousands of Saudi-linked accounts.

The most recent major shut down happened in September this year, when the site announced it suspended the account of former Saudi royal court advisor Saud al-Qahtani, who had amassed  more 1.3 million followers, along with the accounts of six other high-ranking Saudi officials. 

Qahtani, a close aid of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was fired from his post in October last year after Turkish and US authorities exposed his role in orchestrating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In 2017, he had called on Saudi Twitter users to compile an intelligence blacklist of anyone showing sympathy for regional rival Qatar, using the Arabic hashtag #TheBlacklist and promised to "follow" every account named.

Read more: Twitter takes down account of Saud Al-Qahtani, MbS’ former right-hand man, linked to Khashoggi murder

Twitter also suspended thousands of accounts managed by DotDev, a private technology firm that operates in the UAE and Egypt, in September.

The suspended accounts were believed to be involved in a broad information operation using state propaganda to target Qatar, Yemen and other states.

Read more: Twitter suspends thousands of Emirati accounts for anti-Qatar, Yemen trolling

A month earlier, Facebook announced it had dismantled a network of fake user profiles and pages linked to the Saudi government, which circulated state propaganda and poured scorn on the kingdom's adversaries and detractors.

Over 350 accounts and pages, which had accumulated over 1.4 million followers, would post in Arabic and discuss "Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – his internal and economic social reform plan, the successes of the Saudi armed forces, particularly during the conflict in Yemen", according to Facebook's head of cybersecurity, Nathaniel Gleicher.

The takedown forms part of Facebook's ongoing efforts to combat "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" on the platform.  

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