Twitter has removed thousands of state-backed accounts linked with spreading propaganda about the Saudi government and sowing discord around the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
The social media company says it has deleted more than 10,000 profiles across six countries that were found to be sharing false information and encouraging unrest, including in Saudi Arabia and China.
In a blog post, Twitter said almost half of the accounts (4,302) were being operated by the Chinese government to “sow discord about the protest movement in Hong Kong.
This follows the identification in August of more than 200,000 fake accounts in China engaged in fueling public discord in Hong Kong.
Twitter on Friday said it had “removed or suspended thousands of accounts with ties to governments in the Middle East,” including a former close media adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who reportedly ran a pro-regime online troll army and was implicated as involved in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to the New York Times, that adviser, Saud el-Qahtani, had 1.3 million followers on the site before he was banned, although his account had mostly gone quiet in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. A Twitter blog post said that Qahtani was “permanently suspended” due to “violations of our platform manipulation policies” alongside six other accounts that posed as legitimate media outlets but were in fact “engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.”
In addition, Twitter suspended a separate network of 267 accounts connected to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The accounts were operated by a private company called DotDev, and the information operation focused on Qatar and Iran, according to Twitter.
The social media company said it suspended 4,258 inauthentic accounts operating from the U.A.E. that tweeted about subjects like the Yemeni civil war, 259 accounts connected to a political party in Spain and that falsely bolstered public sentiment and 1,019 accounts in Ecuador with links to a local political party that amplified tweets and hashtags about President Lenín Moreno’s administration.
In Zimbabwe, the government has engaged social media combat officers known as the Varakashi, who not only propagate government propaganda but also responsible for creating the level of animosity, intolerance and hate amongst people as they defend unprofessionally government policies, driving so much negativity over social media.