Twitter has suspended a large network of 4,258 accounts which it said were operated exclusively from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), employing fake names and tweeting mostly about Qatar and Yemen.
The company said those accounts were managed by a private company called DotDev, which identifies itself on its website as a “custom software solutions company based in Abu Dhabi.” DotDev also has an Egyptian affiliate based in Giza, outside of Cairo.
Twitter‘s actions follow on the heels of Facebook’s removal last month of 350 fake accounts and pages promoting Saudi propaganda, which marked the first time a tech company had linked such activity back to the Saudi government.
Facebook said at the same time it had also suspended a separate network of more than 350 accounts linked to marketing firms called New Waves in Egypt and Newave in the UAE.
Twitter has also suspended the account of former Saudi royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani on Friday, nearly a year after he was sacked over his suspected role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Al-Qahtani, a close confidante of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), ran the royal court’s media centre as well as an electronic army tasked with protecting the kingdom’s image and attacking its perceived enemies online.
He dictated Saudi Arabia’s official line on issues including a diplomatic dispute with Qatar and security and human rights.
Twitter declined to specify the precise reason or timing for al-Qahtani’s suspension, saying only that he had violated the company’s “platform manipulation” policies.
Records of his tweets are not being added to its archive of state-backed information operations, the company said in its blog post.
Al-Qahtani has not tweeted since October 22, shortly after he was fired, but sources told Reuters in January that he continued to wield considerable influence behind the scenes.
The former royal adviser, who led fiery social media campaigns against critics of Saudi Arabia, has not appeared publicly since the murder of the Saudi journalist, and his current whereabouts are a subject of fevered speculation.
Although the Saudi public prosecutor has said al-Qahtani participated in a plan to repatriate Khashoggi, officials have refused to disclose whether he was arrested and sources have said he was not among those put on trial for the murder.
Twitter suspended six other accounts linked to the Saudi government which were presenting themselves as independent journalistic outlets “while tweeting narratives favourable to the Saudi government,” it said.
The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on Friday.