Twitter worked with the Pentagon to amplify propaganda about the United States military’s activities in the Middle East, allowing fake accounts to push pro-US narratives despite pledging to shut down covert state-run influence campaigns, according to an investigation based on Twitter’s internal files.
Twitter secretly created a special “whitelist” exempting accounts run by US Central Command (CENTCOM) from spam and abuse flags, granting them greater visibility on the platform, according to the investigation by Lee Fang, a reporter with The Intercept.
Twitter quietly introduced the feature in 2017 after US military officials asked the company to improve the visibility of 52 Arab language accounts used to “amplify certain messages”, according to the investigation, which was published on Twitter and in The Intercept.
CENTCOM’s “priority accounts” promoted information in support of US military narratives, including criticism of Iran, support for the US and Saudi Arabia-backed war in Yemen, and claims about the superior accuracy of US drone strikes, according to Fang.
CENTCOM subsequently concealed its ownership of the accounts, Fang said, in some cases using fake profile pictures and bios to give the impression they were run by civilians in the Middle East.
While Twitter has said it does not allow deceptive state-backed influence operations, the social media company was aware of CENTCOM’s covert activity and tolerated the presence of the accounts on the platform until at least May 2022, Fang said.