Purged Saudi Government-Backed Twitter Accounts Urged U.S.-Led Regime Change in Iran, Deflected Responsibility For Khashoggi Murder

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Twitter accounts
More than 88,000 Saudi-backed Twitter accounts have been suspended for what the social media site called a violation of its “manipulation policies”. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman adjusts his robe as leaders gather for the group photo at the G20 Leader’s Summit at the Costa Salguero Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Image: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

Thousands of Saudi-government-backed accounts suspended by Twitter for violation of the social platform’s rules were used to urge a U.S.-led regime change in Iran, deflecting responsibility for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and whitewashing Saudi human rights abuses in Yemen.

Twitter said it had removed more than 88,000 accounts for what it called a violation of its “platform manipulation policies”.

Most of the accounts were in Arabic and aimed at “amplifying messages favorable to Saudi authorities”, but Twitter said that some English language content was aimed at “Western audiences”.

The accounts, which produced and amplified more than 29 million tweets, were operated by Smaat, a social media marketing company based in Saudi Arabia.

“Our in-house technical indicators show that Smaat appears to have created, purchased, and/or managed these accounts on behalf of — but not necessarily with the knowledge of — their clients,” Twitter said in a statement.

“We have permanently suspended Smaat’s access to our service as a result, as well as the Twitter accounts of Smaat’s senior executives.”

The review of Smaat’s English language Twitter activity suggests that urging the U.S. to engage in a regime change campaign in Iran, isolating Qatar, advancing a Saudi narrative about its Yemen intervention that overlooks Riyadh’s use of child soldiers, and deflecting accusations of the Saudi leadership’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder were top priorities.

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Following a trial shrowded in secrecy, five people were sentenced to death on Dec. 23 for the 2018 murder of journalist Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, according to the Washington Post.

Controversially, the two most senior officials implicated in the case, including an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The trial and its findings have been described by critics as “an abhorrent miscarriage of justice“.