Over the past few weeks, investigations published on this blog have revealed that thousands of apparently automated bot accounts on Twitter have been polluting the Bahrain hashtag with sectarian Tweets. On some days, these sectarian bots accounted for over 50% of the Tweets on the Bahrain hashtag. Despite Twitter suspending upward of 1800 accounts, the bots still exist. In my latest calculations approximately 16279 Tweets out of 51194 downloaded from the API between 3 – 11 July 2016 were automated. The tweets sampled were produced by approximately 9167 unique accounts. Of these unique accounts, approximately 1886 are unique bot accounts. Therefore from this sample, 32% (3sf) of Tweets on the Bahrain hashtag were from automated accounts, which make up approximately 21% of the total accounts in the sample. Although the API search does not reveal all Tweets on the hashtag, (potentially only 1% of all Tweets), it gives an idea of the scale of the operation.
This morning, some fellow Tweeps alerted me to the use of similar bots on the #Yemen hashtag, so I did some preliminary tests. Sure enough, the same bots on the #Bahrain hashtag are using the Yemen hashtag to promote the idea of Iranian influence in Yemen, a common trope in Gulf politics. The accounts are indeed the same, and some have changed from Tweeting about Bahrain to tweeting about Yemen. Many still continue to tweet on the #Bahrain hashtag. The most common Tweets on the Yemen hashtag are;
العوين:مجئ الخوميني هو بداية الشر و اشعال الحروب في المنطقة https://t.co/wkYWbGT3eG … #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #ايران #Iran #حزب_الله #yemen #Iraq
(translation: The appearance of Khomeini was the beginning of evil and the spread of wars in the region #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim, #Hezbollah, #Yemen, #Iraq, #Iran
توجيهات خادم الحرمين بايصال رسالة المملكة للعالم كله ومنها برنامج الإمامة في الخارج https://t.co/QZif2VH3PP … #ايران #Iran #حزب_الله #yemen (The custodian of the holy mosques sends a message to the whole world….)
Of the 11,541 Tweets pulled from the Twitter API over an approximately 48 hour period, around 2,493 appear to be from bot accounts. In the sample, there were approximately 1172 individual bot accounts engaged in polluting the Yemen hashtag with the above tweets. You can see the spreadsheet data here. I have used the same methodology as in previous posts, but have not got into it here (happy to answer questions though)
The role of Saudi24?
What is interesting about virtually all the videos analysed on the #Bahrain and Yemen hashtag is that they contain links almost exclusively to the YouTube channel Saudi 24. Saudi 24 is a satellite channel that I am still trying to find more information on. Their Twitter account was set up in July 2012, before the automated Twitter activated seemed to begin. Their live link can be found here. Their website can be found here. The email address given on their Twitter bio is Info@saudi24.tv. They joined YouTube in January 2015, after many of the bot account had been created (On Youtube they have 12,501 subscribers and over 3,743,929 views ). This appears to be the Twitter account of the main presenter, Mohammad Rashid. Their rhetoric seems loosely aligned with state rhetoric. They are anti Islamic State, but antagonistic towards Iran, and sectarian towards the Shia. At the moment the link is speculative, but it does seem unusual that the bots should almost exclusively choose news clips from Saudi 24, when there are plenty to choose from that broadcast a particularly anti-Shia, anti-Iran, sectarian agenda.