Twitter has been forced to suspend thousands of accounts linked to state-backed campaigns driven by Saudi Arabia and designed to influence public opinion, it has revealed.
The social networking site claimed in a new blog post on Friday that 5929 accounts had been removed for “violating our platform manipulation policies.”
“These accounts represent the core portion of a larger network of more than 88,000 accounts engaged in spammy behavior across a wide range of topics. We have permanently suspended all of these accounts from the service,” Twitter said.
“In order to protect the privacy of potentially compromised accounts repurposed to engage in platform manipulation, and in response to researcher feedback requesting that we pre-filter unrelated spam, we have not disclosed data for all 88,000 accounts.”
By liking, retweeting and replying to posts, these inauthentic and hijacked accounts apparently amplified messages favorable to the Saudis.
Twitter claimed the coordinated activity could be traced back to a Saudi social media marketing company known as Smaat.
“Our in-house technical indicators show that Smaat appears to have created, purchased, and/or managed these accounts on behalf of — but not necessarily with the knowledge of — their clients,” it explained. “We have permanently suspended Smaat’s access to our service as a result, as well as the Twitter accounts of Smaat’s senior executives. Smaat managed a range of Twitter accounts for high-profile individuals, as well as many government departments in Saudi Arabia.”
Those Smaat employees appear to have used automated third-party tools to amplify non-political content in large volumes; a tactic apparently designed to disguise the more important political content from moderators.
Twitter has been busy this year removing state-backed attempts to manipulate public opinion for geopolitical advantage. It June it shut down 5000 Iranian and Russian accounts accused of doing so, and in August it was the turn of China, which had 1000 accounts suspended for spreading propaganda about Hong Kong.