Thousands worldwide, including ex-Saudi royal adviser, have Twitter accounts suspended
On Friday, the microblogging site Twitter said that it has closed down thousands of accounts on its platform for spreading fake news and pro-government propaganda. The company said that over 10,000 Twitter accounts from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, China, and Spain, have been suspended. In October last year, Twitter had created an archive of state-backed information operations.
Twitter said it has removed 273 accounts in UAE and Egypt which were targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. These accounts were created and managed by a private technology company, DotDev. Additionally, 4,248 separate accounts operating from UAE were also suspended for targeting Qatar and Yemen. These accounts tweeted about the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement, and other regional issues.
Further, six state-run accounts linked to Saudi Arabia were also suspended for amplifying messages supportive of the Saudi government. These included the Twitter account of Saud al-Qahtani, a former Saudi royal court adviser and a close confidant of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). He was sacked over his suspected involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Referring to the Saudi accounts, Twitter said, "While active, the accounts in this set presented themselves as independent journalistic outlets while tweeting narratives favorable to the Saudi government." It said it will continue to suspend accounts for other political spam violations in Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, 4,301 fake accounts in China that were trying to "sow discord" amid protests in Hong Kong were also suspended. Twitter also suspended 265 accounts in Spain for "falsely boosting public sentiment" by spamming and retweeting, and 1,019 accounts in Ecuador for spamming activity linked to the President Lenín Moreno. The issues targeted were Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.
Twitter said, "We will continue to enhance and refine our approach to disclosing state-affiliated information operations on our service." It added, "We intend to more routinely disclose data relating to state-backed information operations on the service using our @TwitterSafety and in future iterations of the Twitter Transparency Report." Twitter said this would be "vital to regularize our transparency" and "to encourage more third-party investigation."
This move comes after the microblogging site came under intense scrutiny over reports of foreign interference in political conversations on Twitter. Other platforms, such as Facebook and Google were also held accountable for Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections.