BREAKING NEWS : Coliseum Inn shooting victim identified by Allen County coroner Full Story
SEVERE WX : Heat Advisory View Alerts

Twitter shuts down bots pushing pro-Saudi message

Twitter has suspended a network of accounts that appeared to be pushing pro-Saudi messages about the ...

Posted: Oct 20, 2018 6:33 AM
Updated: Oct 20, 2018 6:33 AM

Twitter has suspended a network of accounts that appeared to be pushing pro-Saudi messages about the Jamal Khashoggi scandal, a person familiar with the situation told CNN Friday.

The accounts were behaving like typical spam accounts, the person said, adding that Twitter had been aware of them for some time. Twitter said it has no evidence the accounts were pro-Saudi or Saudi government-backed.

Companies

Continents and regions

Jamal Khashoggi

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Misc people

Saudi Arabia

Twitter

The move came after internet analysts such as Josh Russell, a systems analyst and programmer at Indiana University and a part-time Russian troll hunter, identified a surge in suspected botnet activity promoting pro-Saudi lines around the Khashoggi case, as first reported by NBC News.

Khashoggi's disappearance and apparent killing has created a diplomatic rift between Riyadh and the West. Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and that suspicion arose within hours of his entering the consulate, CNN has learned.

Arabic hashtags praising the kingdom's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and calling on users to "unfollow enemies of the nation" were among the top trends globally in the past few days, presumably boosted by bots as well as real users.

Researchers detected bots that were sharing the same content, in the same order, using the same hashtags, suggesting a network-wide automated or semi-automated effort.

Marc Owen Jones, a lecturer in the history of the Gulf Arabian Peninsula at Exeter University, UK and researcher on bots and cybersecurity in the Gulf countries, told CNN one of the tactics these accounts used was to "start patriotic or banal hashtags that replace potentially critical hashtags."

Those include, according to Jones, hashtags such as one that roughly translates as "message of love for Mohammed bin Salman".

"Hashtags about Kashoggi did not last long at all. Many of these trends are boosted by verified and highly followed accounts, but also supported by bots," he said.

Another analyst, Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council, tweeted that an Arabic-language hashtag translating to "unfollow enemies of the nation" was used more than 100,000 times on October 16 and October 17.

According to Nimmo, 96.3% of the uses of that hashtag were retweets, suggesting a coordinated effort from either a retweet farm or bots, he said.

Nimmo believes many of those accounts were dormant for years.

"They were created by genuine users in the early days, then abandoned, hacked, and sold on the dark web," he told CNN. "There's a big market for aged accounts."

However, it's really hard to work out who is running botnets, Nimmo said. "The bot action is clearly pro-regime, but some of the bots look commercial, rented for the occasion."

"They're amplifying real people, often verified users, and there's a degree of genuine grassroots support for the hashtags; impossible to tell how much at this stage, but it's not all bots," he concluded.

Jones says propaganda troll accounts are becoming more common.

"Although Twitter claimed they suspended some botnets this is relatively trivial, the bots suspended were crude and likely to have been identified as part of Twitter's routine spambot roundup," he said.

"I've identified similar networks for years and Twitter rarely make a fanfare of getting them removed. Indeed, there are existing botnets spreading pro-regime propaganda that have existed since 2012 and that are still going strong."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49063

Reported Deaths: 2732
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11760689
Lake5276246
Elkhart340255
Allen2835133
St. Joseph200169
Cass16429
Hamilton1608101
Hendricks1425100
Johnson1296118
Porter76738
Tippecanoe7359
Clark66844
Madison66764
Bartholomew59145
Vanderburgh5876
LaPorte58326
Howard58058
Kosciusko5624
Marshall5016
Noble48528
LaGrange4779
Jackson4733
Boone45443
Delaware45252
Hancock45236
Shelby43125
Floyd38444
Morgan32731
Monroe30928
Montgomery29720
Grant29626
Clinton2902
Dubois2886
Henry28216
White26610
Decatur25432
Lawrence24825
Dearborn23823
Vigo2388
Warrick22729
Harrison21622
Greene19032
Miami1862
Jennings17712
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess14817
Wayne1436
Orange13623
Perry1359
Steuben1302
Franklin1268
Ripley1247
Jasper1232
Wabash1142
Carroll1102
Fayette1037
Newton9910
Gibson982
Whitley975
Starke943
Randolph804
Huntington782
Jefferson762
Wells751
Fulton721
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Owen501
Adams491
Benton480
Posey450
Sullivan451
Spencer441
Brown421
Blackford392
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio180
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60181

Reported Deaths: 2991
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10879439
Cuyahoga8277383
Hamilton6287206
Lucas2836303
Marion273639
Summit2241207
Pickaway220541
Montgomery220131
Mahoning1861239
Butler167447
Columbiana130960
Stark1156113
Lorain106468
Trumbull99774
Warren89525
Clark7809
Delaware61715
Fairfield60517
Tuscarawas58510
Belmont55522
Medina54332
Lake52920
Licking52012
Miami47531
Portage46159
Wood45251
Ashtabula43744
Clermont4317
Geauga41443
Wayne36552
Richland3515
Allen32841
Mercer2909
Greene2879
Darke25326
Erie25022
Holmes2453
Huron2282
Madison2029
Ottawa16024
Washington14020
Sandusky13814
Crawford1365
Putnam13215
Ross1323
Coshocton1302
Hardin12312
Morrow1181
Auglaize1074
Jefferson922
Union921
Monroe8917
Muskingum891
Hancock831
Preble801
Athens791
Hocking798
Guernsey763
Lawrence740
Williams722
Shelby704
Clinton680
Logan651
Fulton630
Ashland621
Carroll603
Wyandot605
Brown591
Scioto540
Defiance533
Knox531
Fayette480
Highland461
Champaign441
Van Wert420
Perry371
Seneca352
Henry320
Jackson260
Paulding260
Adams241
Pike240
Vinton222
Gallia201
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
93° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 99°
Angola
Few Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 95°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
92° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 99°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 85°
Van Wert
Broken Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 85°
AM Storms, Slightly Cooler Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events