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Twitter shuts down troll armies of Saudi Arabia, UAE

Social media platform Twitter on Friday announced that it has permanently closed thousands of accounts mainly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia after an internal investigation found these accounts were ”interconnected in their goals and tactics”.

“We have removed a network of 267 accounts originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. These accounts were interconnected in their goals and tactics: a multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. It also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” statement on Twitter website read.

These accounts “were created and managed by DotDev, a private technology company operating in the UAE and Egypt”, and Twitter “permanently suspended DotDev, and all accounts associated with them,” it added.

Twitter also said that it suspended 4,258 accounts operating ”uniquely” from the UAE to target Qatar and the Yemeni Civil War by employing “false personae” and spreading messages supportive of the Saudi government.

The social media company in its statement said accounts that ”presented themselves as independent journalistic outlets” were actually “political spam violations” by the Saudi government.

“Separately, we have also permanently suspended the Twitter account of Saud al-Qahtani for violations of our platform manipulation policies,” the company said.

Why Saud al-Qahtani

Saud al-Qahtani, the former adviser to the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and a former minister in the royal court, is the head of a troll army that would conduct smear campaigns on social media to target institutions or people opposing the new administration of Saudi Arabia, led by bin Salman.

He has threatened opponents, including Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi who was later murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit-squad last year in October on orders from al-Qahtani and his superior. 

The Saudi administration was forced to dismiss al-Qahtani after Khashoggi’s murder scandal came to light, and he was banned from traveling abroad.

In line with the Khashoggi investigation in Istanbul, Turkish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for al-Qahtani, who was accused of “deliberately killing [someone]”.

Twitter also said it took action against thousands of fake or propaganda accounts in Spain, Ecuador and China that harbored similar smear motives.

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