According to Twitter, 5,929 accounts have been removed from the platform for targeting discussions about Saudi Arabia, which violates the company’s “platform manipulation policies”. In addition to that, 88,000 accounts that were “engaged in spammy behaviour” were also permanently suspended.
The company has also shared data about the accounts which have been removed, which have been revealed to be part of a significant state-backed information operation “originating in Saudi Arabia”.
Twitter’s internal investigation team has discovered that the activity is coordinated by Smaat—a social media marketing and management company that’s based in Saudi Arabia. The company’s access to Twitter has been suspended, and senior executives have also had their access to the platform revoked—notably, some of their clients include high-profile individuals from Saudi government departments.
“Primarily, accounts were amplifying messages favourable to Saudi authorities, mainly through inauthentic engagement tactics such as aggressive liking, retweeting and replying.”
Interestingly, Twitter’s post also links to a page that provides examples of state-backed information operations—most of which appears to be propaganda against the U.S. Have a look:
Twitter’s transparency blog also has a form that allows you to request for the data on the accounts that have been banned, although data for the entire 88,000 Twitter accounts is being kept confidential to protect the privacy of any potentially “compromised” accounts.
“We exist to serve the public conversation around the world. To this end, we’ll continue to take strong enforcement action against any state-backed information campaigns which undermine our company’s mission, principles, and policies.”
It’s interesting that many of the accounts flagged used 3rd party automated tools. While that in itself isn’t the problem, the “bots” were part of a larger attempt to “mask the overall platform manipulation”. The way it worked, it became more difficult for the political Tweets to be differentiated from non-political Tweets within the same timeline.
While it’s certainly a slippery slope, it’s commendable to see Twitter make moves to keep our timelines filled with authentic content. For Malaysians, many remember the “cyber troopers” that rose in notoriety last year, especially during the build up to the General Election.