by Katrina Panić

It looks like Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia have something in common this time around. Stating the transparency is fundamental to their work, Twitter deleted over 20,000 accounts in these seemingly disparate countries. They had at least one mutual thing – state-backed information operations.

“These behaviours are in violation of our policies and are a targeted attempt to undermine the public conversation”, the social networking company explained. Serbia was by far the top country recently in terms of the number of removed accounts violating company policy on manipulation and spam.

“We identified clusters of accounts engaged in an inauthentic coordinated activity which led to the removal of 8,558 accounts working to promote Serbia’s ruling party – Serbian Progressive Party, SNS – and its leader, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić”, Twitter stated.

The Stanford Internet Observatory published the analysis “Fighting Like a Lion for Serbia” this month. It reads this network with more than 43 million tweets, among them 85 per cent retweets, acted in concerto cheerlead for President Aleksandar Vučić and his party, to attack his opponents, and to boost the popularity and visibility of other content serving these ends.

“The data provided by Twitter reveals an extensive campaign to influence Serbian Twitter users. While a precise connection between this network and SNS has not been established, there can be no doubt, given the content these accounts shared and the period in which they were active, that this network was intended to boost Vučić’s election chances in early 2017 and to combat the “1 of 5 Million” protests in 2018-2020″, the analysis concluded.

However, the network’s influence extended beyond Twitter since the tweets have been regularly published in pro-government media outlets.

“That manipulation also entails a decline in trust in the media by erasing the boundary between truth and lies. The content published in tabloids is taken over by influential Twitter users. Then anonymous bots retweet and spread it, and from there on their tweets are going back to informative talk shows, where politicians or analysts bring them in print,” Snježana Milivojević Belgrade University teacher on Public Opinion and Media Studies

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