Facebook says it disabled disinformation campaign linked to Saudi government

Facebook ArabicFacebook has disabled a large network of fake accounts that it says were involved in an extensive disinformation operation tied to the government of Saudi Arabia. The social media company said on Thursday that the operation concentrated on spreading state-approved propaganda that extolled the Saudi royal family and its policies in the Middle East. The operation employed over 350 fake accounts, which collectively had nearly 1.5 million followers. It is believed that the Saudi propaganda scheme was also active on Instagram, the popular image- and video-sharing service, which is owned by Facebook.

According to Facebook’s Office of Cybersecurity Policy, the Saudi disinformation operation used an interconnected network of fake accounts that were made to look like they represented local news outlets in a number of Middle Eastern countries. The accounts circulated carefully written news reports that presented Saudi officials and the Kingdom in a positive light. Major themes in posts included the philanthropic work of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the economic and social policies he has instituted since his ascent to power. Other posts expressed support for Saudi’s involvement in Yemen, where the Saudi government is leading an anti-Shiite military campaign. Several posts criticized Qatar, which Saudi Arabia accuses of sponsoring terrorism, and Iran, which is Riyadh’s most formidable regional rival. For several months last year, the fake news network circulated posts that expressed strong skepticism about claims that the Saudi government ordered the murder of one of its leading critics, Jamal Khashoggi, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Although Facebook, regularly deletes fake accounts for what it calls “inauthentic behavior”, it almost never issues statements tying groups of accounts to specific governments. However, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of Facebook’s Cybersecurity Policy Office, “investigators were able to confirm that the individuals behind this are associated with the government of Saudi Arabia”. Gleicher added that the disinformation campaign spent over $100,000 promoting its posts online. Most were in the Arabic language and targeted countries in the Middle East and North Africa, he said. The social media giant’s announcement came 48 hours after a report in The Washington Post quoted several cyber security experts who said many government’s other than Russia’s use social media to spread disinformation, including those of Israel, China and Saudi Arabia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 August 2019 | Permalink

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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