Twitter just suspended over 88,000 accounts tied to a Saudi disinformation campaign

  • Twitter on Friday announced that it had removed more than 88,000 accounts that it tied to a disinformation campaign backed by Saudi Arabia’s government.
  • The company published data on nearly 6,000 of those accounts but said it was keeping the rest of the accounts confidential because they might represent compromised accounts repurposed for the spam campaign.
  • The accounts were removed for “platform manipulation,” aggressively posting messages that aligned with Saudi Arabia’s interests, Twitter said.
  • It’s one of the largest single crackdowns on state-backed accounts in Twitter’s history.
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Twitter announced in a blog post Friday that it had removed more than 88,000 accounts that it said were engaged in “platform manipulation” originating in Saudi Arabia.

The accounts engaged in “spammy behavior,” Twitter said, aggressively liking, retweeting, and replying to amplify messages that were favorable to the Saudi government’s interests. Twitter’s investigation found that the accounts originated from a Saudi social-media marketing company called Smaat, which also manages several official Saudi government accounts. It referred to the operation as “state-backed.”

The tweets were primarily in Arabic, but a small portion of content targeted Western audiences, Twitter said. Those tweets advocated Saudi positions regarding sanctions in Iran and public opinion regarding Saudi government officials.

Twitter published comprehensive data on 5,929 of those accounts but said it was keeping the rest confidential to protect the privacy of “potentially compromised accounts” that were used for the spam campaign.

It’s one of the largest single crackdowns on state-backed accounts, according to Twitter’s transparency blog. Twitter banned nearly 3,000 accounts originating in Iran in May and June, and it has removed other accounts tied to Russia and Venezuela. Twitter banned tens of millions of accounts in early 2018, according to The Washington Post, but it’s not clear whether those were tied to state-backed misinformation.

It’s not the first time Twitter has faced Saudi-backed information campaigns this year. In November, federal prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees with spying on behalf of the Saudi government beginning in 2015.