World, Middle East

Twitter axes 88,000 Saudi government spam-bots

Riyadh was using Twitter as a propaganda tool to boost its image on world stage

James Reinl   | 20.12.2019
Twitter axes 88,000 Saudi government spam-bots

NEW YORK

Twitter on Friday said it had axed 88,000 “fake and spammy” accounts connected to a Saudi Arabian government effort to spread bogus spin about the kingdom and to criticize arch-foe Iran.  

The California-based social networking site said it had taken down the vast number of misinformation and spam accounts and shared data about 5,929 of them as part of a broader crackdown on global state-led mass online trolling. 

“Our internal analysis shows the network was involved in various forms of platform manipulation, targeting discussions related to Saudi Arabia and advancing their geopolitical interests on the world stage,” said Twitter in a blog post. 

The kingdom’s accounts were mostly “amplifying messages favorable to Saudi authorities” by “inauthentic engagement tactics such as aggressive liking, retweeting and replying” in a propaganda drive aimed chiefly at Saudi and Middle Eastern users, Twitter said. 

“While the majority of the content from this network was in Arabic, a portion of it related to events relevant to Western audiences, including amplification of discussion around sanctions in Iran and appearances by Saudi government officials in Western media.”  

Twitter says it traced the accounts to Smaat, a Saudi-based social media, marketing, and management firm that is known to manage accounts for Saudi government agencies. Twitter suspended Smaat and its senior executives from the network. 

Many of the kingdom’s accounts were bots, meaning they used “automated tools in order to amplify non-political content at high volumes,” said Twitter, which added that this in itself did not violate the network’s rules. 

“However, this behavior was, in part, strategically employed in an attempt to mask the overall platform manipulation originating from these accounts,” said Twitter. 

“These tactics made it more difficult for observers to identify political Tweets in the timelines of accounts, which mostly shared automated, non-political content.”

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