Twitter removes 5,929 Saudi accounts it deems to be state-backed

Twitter says it has removed nearly 6,000 accounts it deemed to be tied to a state-backed information operation in Saudi Arabia.

In a blog post on Friday, the social media giant said the removed Saudi accounts were amplifying messages favourable to Saudi authorities, mainly through “aggressive liking, retweeting and replying”.

Twitter said the tweets – the majority of which were in Arabic – also amplified discussions about sanctions on Iran and appearances by Saudi government officials in Western media.

The 5,929 accounts removed are part of a larger group of 88,000 accounts engaged in “spammy behaviour” across a wide range of topics. However, Twitter is not disclosing all of them because some might be hacked private accounts “repurposed to engage in platform manipulation”.

Twitter began archiving tweets and media it deems to be associated with known state-backed information operations in 2018. It shut 200,000 Chinese accounts that targeted Hong Kong protests in August.

War on misinformation

Social media companies have been trying to tackle misinformation on their services, especially in the lead up to next year’s US presidential election. The efforts followed revelations that Russians bankrolled thousands of fake political ads during the 2016 polls.

There was no immediate comment by Saudi officials.

In September, Twitter suspended the account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, who also served as director of the cybersecurity federation. Al-Qahtani has been implicated in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

As with Friday’s announcement, Twitter said that account had violated the company’s platform manipulation policy.

The Saudi government has used different tactics to control speech and keep reformers and others from organising, including employing troll armies to harass and intimidate users online. It has also arrested and imprisoned Twitter users.


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