If you thought social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, had cleaned up the reams of misinformation online and prohibited actors from manipulating the platform and thereby the users of that platform, you’d be wrong. On Thursday, NBC News reports, Twitter suspended a network of suspected bots pushing pro-Saudi Arabia messages in an effort to sow doubt over Riyadh’s alleged role in the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The bots, much like the Russian effort during the 2016 election, used hundreds of automated accounts to amplify dissembling messages countering the emerging evidence surrounding Khashoggi’s apparent murder.
“The bot accounts pushed messages over the weekend imploring users to express doubt about news stories reporting that Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2 at the order of the Saudi government, as Turkish officials have alleged,” NBC News reports. “Some of the bot accounts tweeted using a hashtag in Arabic that became the top worldwide Twitter trend on Sunday. The hashtag roughly translated to ‘#We_all_trust_Mohammad_Bin_Salman,’ the Crown Prince and putative leader of Saudi Arabia, who has come under international scrutiny following the disappearance of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post.”
The bots were not high volume posters, instead they strategically engaged, amplifying the Saudi message while avoiding detection. Hundreds of the accounts identified by NBC News were created nearly a year ago within minutes of each other, while others were created in clusters over the course of the year in 2012.