A network of hundreds of Twitter accounts was shut down after tweeting pro-Saudi sentiments regarding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The accounts are suspected of being bots, NBC News reported, because they were tweeting and re-tweeting pro-Saudi government tweets at the same time and in the same order.
They also all used the same Arabic hashtag, which translates to “We All Trust Mohammad bin Salman.”
Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi prince known as MBS, has come under scrutiny in the wake of the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Khashoggi often criticized the Saudi Arabian government, including MBS. He disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2, and Saudi Arabia is suspected of killing and torturing him. The Saudi government has denied knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
The suspected bots posted messages that expressed doubt about news stories that said Khashoggi was killed at the consulate, NBC reported.
Twitter has confirmed to Global News that officials have suspended the accounts in question, but says there’s no evidence they were all pro-Saudi bots. Instead, they could have been commercial accounts or spam accounts.
Twitter has been attempting to crack down on automatic Twitter bots in an attempt to stem the spread of fake news and misinformation.
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They no longer allow people (or bots) to publish to multiple accounts at once using a publishing platform — nor are people (or bots) able to re-tweet or like a post from multiple accounts at once.
Twitter says it challenges 10 million accounts a week and will remove accounts that don’t pass such challenges. (The challenge can be as simple as providing a phone number.)
But the suspected bots in question, which were created as early as 2011, were able to fly under the radar for so long because they posted sparingly — unlike previous bots.
The social media company suspended the accounts after NBC asked officials about them, the network said.
But a Twitter spokesperson who requested anonymity told the network the company knew about the network of bots before NBC brought the situation to their attention.
Twitter officials confirmed to Global News that many of the accounts in question had been previously suspected and were in the challenge stage, so the accounts didn’t show up in search and other areas of service.
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