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Twitter’s removes 10,000 accounts from six countries for political information operations

Twitter has disclosed its permanent removal of 10,112 accounts across six countries. These accounts were found to be actively spreading misinformation and encouraging unrest around sensitive political issues. They include a network of 271 accounts from UAE and Egypt, another group of over 4,000 accounts operating from the UAE, 259 in Spain, 200,000 fake accounts from China around the Hong Kong protests.

Why this matters: These disclosures mark nearly one year of Twitter’s efforts to identify and remove accounts spreading political misinformation, something which impacts democratic processes and elections. Like Facebook, Twitter has made several such disclosures over the past year, including its removal of 4,500 accounts out of Russia and 4,700 accounts connected to the Iranian state, and nearly over 900 accounts from China targeting the Hong Kong protests.

What they removed, from where, and why:

  • UAE and Egypt: Removed a network of 271 accounts from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, backed by DotDev, a private technology company operating in UAE and Egypt. These accounts were targeting Qatar and Iran, and supported the Saudi government. Twitter has also suspended all of DotDev’s accounts.
    • Another 4,248 accounts operating from UAE targeting Yemen and Qatar have been removed. These accounts posed as other people and tweeted about the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement.
  • Saudi Arabia: A group of 6 accounts connected with Saudi state media, posing as independent journalistic outlets, but promoting the Saudi government’s narrative, were removed.
    • Twitter has also removed the account of former Saudi royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, who is suspected of being involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. His account was removed for “violations of our platform manipulation process”, and isn’t a part of this set of removals.
  • Spain: Partido Popular, a Spanish political party mired in corruption scandals, was identified as operating 259 accounts that were falsely “boosting” public sentiment online. These accounts were active for a relatively shorter period and were engaged in spammy behaviour.
  • Ecuador: 1,019 accounts tied to the PAIS Alliance political party, engaging in spreading content about “President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology” were removed.
  • China (PRC)/Hong Kong: 4,301 accounts “attempting to sow discord” about the Hong Kong protests were removed.

Twitter’s archive is open for research: Twitter said that its archive of accounts that have been removed for political misinformation is the largest in the industry. This archive is open to researchers, who have carried out their own investigations and made them public. Twitter says that “thousands of researches have accessed the data”.

India’s Election Commission asks Twitter and others to behave: Election Commission of India has reached out to Twitter and others, asking them to follow the voluntary code of ethics drafted for the Lok Sabha elections  for upcoming state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Delhi.

Although Facebook, Google, and Bytedance whom the Commission also reached out to have raised their concerns to the IAMAI (which is acting as the go-between for the companies and ECI), it’s unclear where Twitter stands on this. Twitter had operated a political ads archive during the Lok Sabha elections in India.

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