Twitter bans bots that spread pro-Saudi messages about missing journalist

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A network of suspected Twitter bots was suspended Thursday after appearing to coordinate the spread of pro-Saudi talking points about the alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

NBC News first reported the suspension after presenting Twitter with a list of hundreds of accounts that spread identical pro-Saudi government tweets at the same time.

The coordinated tweets seem to be an effort at bringing global attention to pro-Saudi talking points in the wake of Saudi journalist Khashoggi’s suspected killing. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a Washington Post columnist, disappeared after an Oct. 2 visit to the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkish officials have said they have audio and video evidence that Khashoggi was killed by Saudis inside the consulate. The Saudis have denied any involvement.

The tweets included a hashtag that became a top Twitter trend worldwide on Sunday. The Arabic hashtag roughly translates to “#We_all_trust_Mohammad_Bin_Salman.” Mohammad Bin Salman is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. It was not immediately clear who created accounts.

A Twitter spokesperson told NBC News that the company had already suspended pro-Saudi government accounts for violating spam policies prior to learning of the additional suspected bots. In recent months, Twitter has begun to crack down on suspected bot accounts by purging “locked accounts” that have exhibited suspicious activity. During a purge this summer, Twitter’s own account lost 7.7 million followers.