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Twitter blocks 1,600 accounts tied to Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Thailand state propaganda networks

Twitter logo. (Dreamstime/TNS)
October 09, 2020

Twitter on Thursday announced it has taken action against 1,594 accounts it said were linked to five separate state disinformation networks in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Thailand.

In a press release, Twitter announced it had determined the accounts belonged to five “distinct networks” of “state-linked information operations.” The Twitter press release said the social media company identified five new accounts linked to Russian state disinformation operations, 33 linked to Saudi Arabian state operations, 526 accounts linked to Cuban state operations, 104 accounts linked to the Iranian state operations, and 926 accounts linked to Thailand state operations.

“Post-investigation, we permanently suspended all 1,594 accounts associated with the five networks, for various violations of our platform manipulation policies,” the social media company said.

Describing the Iranian network, Twitter said Iran’s information operation “artificially amplified conversations on politically sensitive topics, including Black Lives Matter (BLM),” as well as the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody “and other issues of racial and social justice in the United States.”

“In all, we suspended a total of 104 accounts connected with this campaign,” Twitter said.

Twitter, describing the five Russian linked accounts, noted the platform had suspended the accounts on Sept. 1. Twitter said the accounts appeared tied to what it described as a “fake news agency called PeaceData.” In September, NBC reported the news agency hired real-life freelance journalists — including Americans, to contribute to its site content.

Ben Nimmo, whose company, Graphika, researched the news agency, told NBC the site appeared as an “attempt to target left-wing audiences on a range of issues, but the operation got taken down in its early stages and didn’t score measurable impact.” Nimmo said, “The election wasn’t the only focus, but to the extent that it was, it looks like the operation wanted to divide Democratic voters.”

Twitter, in a Sept. 1 thread describing the PeaceData account actions tweeted, “The accounts purported to be associated with a website called PeaceData, which publishes a range of content about global political issues. At least some of the content published on the website was created by real people who appear to have contributed to PeaceData as freelancers.”

“The Tweets from the Russian-linked accounts were low quality and spammy, and most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets. The accounts achieved little impact on Twitter and were identified and removed quickly.”

The announcement of the Twitter suspension actions comes after the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in August, released a report in which it assessed Russian election interference efforts to benefit Trump and harm Biden, and Chinese and Iranian efforts with a preference against Trump in the election.

In June, Engadget reported Twitter had suspended 170,000 state-linked accounts associated with China and about 8,000 more state-linked accounts associated with Russia and Turkey.

In its latest sweep, Twitter said it suspended 526 fake Cuban accounts were run by youth organizations with ties to the Cuban government, including Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC) and Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (FEU).

Twitter said the 33 accounts associated with the Saudi Arabian government “were created to impersonate key Qatari political figures and to advance narratives about Qatari politics which are geostrategically favorable to the Saudi authorities.”

Twitter disclosed 926 accounts it associated with Thailand’s government. Twitter said it could be reliably linked to the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and said “These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behavior targeting prominent political opposition figures.”