Twitter removes pro-Saudi accounts and former aide sacked over Khashoggi killing

Company notes violations of its ‘platform manipulation’ policies

Foo Yun Chee,Katie Paul
Friday 20 September 2019 18:17
Justice for Jamal Khashoggi protest outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia

Twitter suspended the account of former Saudi royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani on Friday, nearly a year after he was sacked over his suspected role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The social network also separately removed accounts linked to Saudi Arabia’s “state-run media apparatus” and others in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all of them amplifying pro-Saudi messages, according to a company blogpost.

Mr Qahtani, a close confidante of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, ran the royal court’s media centre as well as an electronic army tasked with protecting the kingdom’s image and attacking its perceived enemies online.

He dictated Saudi Arabia’s official line on issues including a diplomatic dispute with Qatar and security and human rights.

Mr Qahtani has not tweeted since 22 October, shortly after he was fired, but sources told Reuters in January that he continued to wield considerable influence behind the scenes.

Although the Saudi public prosecutor has said Mr Qahtani participated in a plan to repatriate Khashoggi, officials have refused to disclose whether he was arrested and sources have said he was not among those put on trial for the murder.

The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on Friday.

Twitter declined to specify the precise reason or timing for Mr Qahtani’s suspension, saying only that he had violated the company’s “platform manipulation” policies.

Records of his tweets are not being added to its archive of state-backed information operations, the company said in its blogpost.

Twitter suspended six other accounts linked to the Saudi government which were presenting themselves as independent journalistic outlets “while tweeting narratives favourable to the Saudi government”, it said.

It also removed a network of 267 accounts in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt which were engaged in a “multi-faceted information operation” targeting Qatar and Iran while amplifying messages supportive of the Saudi government.

The company said those accounts were managed by a private company called DotDev, which identifies itself on its website as a “custom software solutions company based in Abu Dhabi”.

DotDev also has an Egyptian affiliate based in Giza, outside of Cairo.

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Twitter took down an even larger network of 4,258 accounts which it said operated exclusively from the UAE, employing fake names and tweeting mostly about Qatar and Yemen. It did not name an entity behind that operation.

The Twitter actions follow on the heels of Facebook’s removal last month of 350 fake accounts and pages promoting Saudi propaganda, which marked the first time a tech company had linked such activity back to the Saudi government.

Facebook said at the same time it had also suspended a separate network of more than 350 accounts linked to marketing firms called New Waves in Egypt and Newave in the UAE.


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