Saudi Arabia Focused Platform Manipulation

How data released by Twitter was used to identify millions of inauthentic Arabic language accounts

Geoff Golberg
3 min readDec 23, 2019


Last Friday, Twitter announced they were sharing data (and information) about a state-backed information operation that originated in Saudi Arabia.

As you can see below, Twitter asserts the “larger network” was comprised of “more than 88,000 accounts [engaging] in spammy behaviour across a wide range of topics”:

Twitter’s investigations traced the platform manipulation to Smaat, a social media marketing and management company:

Smaat’s clients included many government departments in Saudi Arabia, along with Fanta, Dunkin’ Donuts, LG and Bentley:

Enter Purposeful Marketing (aka PMads)

As a result of the (partial) data shared by Twitter a few days ago, Social Forensics was able to uncover another Saudi-focused marketing company engaging in similar activity.

Purposeful Marketing, according to their site, offers advertising campaign services across Twitter and Instagram and “in coordination with accounts with the masses”:

PMads’ site prominently displays “Exclusive accounts” and shares some of their clients:

Purposeful Marketing’s “exclusive” accounts include @ArabicBest (5 million Followers), @TheArabHash (4 million), @TheTopVideo (2.5 million) and @altatwer (1.5 million):

Purposeful Marketing’s clients overlap with Smaat’s clients (PMads’ clients similarly include many government departments in Saudi Arabia):

PMads’ clients (top) and Smaat’s clients (bottom)

OK, So What’s Your Point?

Despite Twitter permanently suspending 88,000 accounts last week for platform manipulation, their executive team continues to allow millions of inauthentic Arabic language accounts to distort the public debate.

As of late 2015, a Saudi billionaire (via his investment firm) became Twitter’s second largest shareholder (at the time, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owned a larger share of Twitter than the American company's CEO, Jack Dorsey).

Last month, former Twitter employees were charged with spying for Saudi Arabia.

Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies.

Geoff is the Founder/CEO/Janitor of Social Forensics, where he spends (far too much of) his time developing techniques and building tools to identify social media manipulation (of various flavors!).

Read about Geoff’s war with Twitter here!



Geoff Golberg

CEO & Founder, Social Forensics | Previously: Co-Founder, Elementus | Featured in BBC, CNN, BuzzFeed, and Quartz, among others |