Twitter deletes close to 6,000 Saudi accounts in fight against interference

Twitter has identified and removed nearly 6,000 that it said were part of a co-ordinated effort by government agencies and individuals to advance the country’s geopolitical interests.

Separately, Facebook said it removed hundreds of Facebook accounts, groups and pages linked to inauthentic behaviour from two separate groups, one originating in the country of Georgia and one in Vietnam, which targeted people both in Vietnam and in the U.S.

The latest crackdowns on state-backed social media campaigns came as tech companies step up efforts to tackle misinformation on their services ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential elections. The efforts followed revelations that Russians bankrolled thousands of fake political ads during the 2016 elections to sow dissent among Americans.

Twitter’s and Facebook’s announcements underscore the fact that misinformation concerns aren’t limited to the U.S. and Russia.

In a blog post Friday, Twitter said the removed Saudi accounts were amplifying messages favourable to Saudi authorities, mainly through “aggressive liking, retweeting and replying.” While the majority of the content was in Arabic, Twitter said the tweets also amplified discussions about sanctions in Iran and appearances by Saudi government officials in Western media.

Twitter began archiving tweets and media it deems to be associated with known state-backed information operations in 2018. It shut 200,000 Chinese accounts that targeted Hong Kong protests in August.

The 5,929 accounts removed and added to the archives are part of a larger group of 88,000 accounts engaged in “spammy behaviour” across a wide range of topics. But Twitter isn’t disclosing all of them because some might be legitimate accounts taken over through hacking.

The Twitter accounts were linked to a social media marketing firm in Saudi Arabia called Smaat that managed many government departments in Saudi Arabia. The accounts used third-party automated tools to amplify non-political content at high volumes. Twitter said that activity was used to mask the political manoeuvrings of the same accounts.

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