A Twitter bot operation of more than 5,000 accounts with previous pro-Saudi Arabia rantings were trolling the "Russiagate hoax" after the release of the Mueller report last week, according to an NBC News report Tuesday.
"The landscape has changed," senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Clint Watts told NBC News. "Since 2016, everybody's doing this. It's trolling as a service. And since there are no consequences, the least sophisticated of all the actors are doing this."
Twitter yanked the accounts Sunday night for violating the social media's "manipulation" standards, according to the report.
"We suspended a network of accounts and others associated with it for engaging in platform manipulation — a violation of the Twitter Rules," according to a Twitter spokesperson to NBC News. "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 accounts terminated were retweeting and liking "The Globus" and "Arabian Veritas" posts which had posed as news organizations but promoted pro-Saudi government ideals starting late last year in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing, according to the report.
"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," Watts said of the reported "influence seeding." "These are made to influence Americans or western audiences.
". . . Strategically, it doesn't matter if no one believes that one account. This sort of network changes the volume of accounts for what trends and makes sure 'Russiagate' and negative tweets about it trend higher."
The accounts terminated did not attempt to hide its bot-related activity, according to fake news researched Josh Russell to NBC News.
"The bots were not directly retweeting the pro-Trump accounts," Russell added. "I think they were probably attempting to generally boost the visibility of those partisan talking points on Twitter in places like search results."