Twitter removes 5,000 bot accounts promoting 'Russiagate hoax'

Twitter removes 5,000 bot accounts promoting 'Russiagate hoax'

Twitter this week removed more than 5,000 bot accounts that called special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE's Russia investigation a hoax.

The move by Twitter reportedly came Sunday night, after Thursday's release of the highly anticipated Mueller report, and was first reported by NBC News.

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The accounts do not appear connected to Russia, but instead have ties to a social media operation that previously promoted messages sympathetic to Saudi Arabia's government, according to NBC.

"We suspended a network of accounts and others associated with it for engaging in platform manipulation — a violation of the Twitter Rules," a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill.

"While our investigations are ongoing, in cases such as this, attribution is difficult. If we do have reasonable evidence to support state-backed activity, we will disclose the accounts as part of our information operations archive," the spokesperson added.

Most of the deleted accounts had posted about 30 times since their creation in November and December, NBC reported. Nearly all of them attacked the media for using the “Russiagate hoax” to undermine President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE, and often lifted language from other pro-Trump accounts’ tweets without attribution, according to NBC.

Many of the banned accounts frequently engaged, through likes or retweets, with @TheGlobus, an account purporting to be a news service but which, until last month, primarily posted memes and tweets praising Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Thousands of the accounts deleted over the weekend only liked tweets from @TheGlobus and no other accounts, according to NBC.

Before the rebrand, the account was named @ArabianVeritas, describing itself on its now-abandoned Instagram account as “an initiative that aims to spread the truth about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East through social media engagement.”

“Whether this is a government or a pro-Saudi influence firm, it shows how easy it is to do and that there’s no cost or consequences for it,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told NBC News. “These are made to influence Americans or western audiences.”

The New York Times reported in October that the Saudi government is suspected to have contacted an employee at Twitter to help the kingdom monitor dissidents’ accounts. Twitter fired the man in December 2015 without determining whether he had given company data to Saudi Arabia.

--Updated at 12:48 p.m.