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Josh Russell, an Indiana-based IT professional, compiled a list of the bots and shared it with NBC News. When Twitter was presented with information, it suspended the accounts.
According to Russell’s spreadsheet, hundreds of the bots were tweeting the same pro-Saudi Arabia message at the same time.
While the behavior was simultaneous, the bots were careful to not flood Twitter with the same message non-stop. It’s a strategy that may have helped them fly under the radar for so long.
According to NBC News, many of the bots were created within minutes of each other in Nov. 2017. Dozens of others were created in 2012, pointing to a long-range misinformation strategy. It is unclear at this point who’s behind the bots.
Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was trying to obtain proof of his divorce so he could marry his Turkish fiancée, who waited for him for hours outside the consulate. He is presumed dead.
Saudi Arabia has insisted that Khashoggi exited the consulate, but video evidence disputes that. Since his disappearance, evidence has come to light suggesting that Saudi Arabian nationals with close ties to its ruling family, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are directly responsible for his disappearance and death. The crown prince denies involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and presumed death.
The bots used hashtags like #We_all_believe_Mohammed_bin_Salman to try and discredit reports of Khashoggi’s death at his government’s hands. They also attempted to spread the idea that Khashoggi’s fiancée was responsible for his death.
The U.S. has so far declined to take any action against the Saudi government, despite mounting evidence of the crown prince’s involvement in the disappearance. President Trump has expressed doubt about Khashoggi’s disappearance and cited the significant weapons deals between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as the reason for his unwillingness to take action.
Trump has since said that consequences will be severe if Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, but has yet to say what those consequences will be. Yesterday, Trump also conceded the Khashoggi was likely dead.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.