Twitter deletes thousands of accounts spreading state propaganda

20 September 2019, 10:38 | Updated: 20 September 2019, 13:50

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".

Huge demonstrations have been staged over proposed legislation that would allow authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in countries that Hong Kong did not already have agreements with, including mainland China.

Twitter has provided regular updates on its bid to block efforts from within China to "undermine" the movement, which was the biggest proportion of its latest crackdown.

In second place was the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from where 4,258 accounts have been deleted over tweets focused on the civil war in Yemen and the Houthi rebel movement.

Twitter said these accounts "were often employing false personae and tweeting about regional issues".

Another 267 accounts originating in the UAE and Egypt have been removed their part in a "multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran".

The accounts, all set up by the now banned tech company DotDev, are also said to have been amplifying supportive messages about the Saudi government.

In Saudi Arabia itself, six accounts linked to its state-run media have been taken down for engaging in "coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government".

The accounts had been presenting themselves as impartial journalists and media outlets.

Also highlighted was the account of former Saudi royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani, a suspect in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

His Twitter account has been permanently suspended for violating "platform manipulation policies".

Elsewhere, 1,019 accounts have been removed in Ecuador - all affiliated with the governing PAIS Alliance party.

Twitter said they were mostly spreading positive spin about President Lenin Moreno.

In Spain, 259 accounts linked to the right-wing conservative People's Party have been removed for "falsely boosting public online sentiment".

Facebook has also announced it has removed 65 accounts from its platform, plus 35 from Instagram, that were taking part in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" in Spain.

The social media giant those behind the accounts were linked to the People's Party.

Twitter has published a downloadable archive of every account it has deleted as part of its crackdown, which is available on its blog.