LONDON (Reuters) – People related to the government of Saudi Arabia have run a community of faux accounts and pages on Facebook Inc (FB.O) to promote state propaganda and assault regional rivals, the social media large mentioned on Thursday.
Facebook mentioned it had suspended greater than 350 accounts and pages with about 1.four million followers, the newest takedown in an ongoing effort to fight “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its platform, and the primary such exercise it has linked to the Saudi government.
“The government of Saudi Arabia has no knowledge of the mentioned accounts and does not know on what basis they were linked to it,” the Center for International Communication, the government’s media workplace, mentioned in a press release despatched to Reuters.
Countries within the Middle East have more and more turned to web sites resembling Facebook, Twitter (TWTR.N) and Google’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube to peddle covert political influence on-line.
Reuters detailed an expansive Iranian-backed campaign final yr and Riyadh has been accused of utilizing the identical techniques to assault regional rival Qatar and unfold disinformation following the homicide of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s loss of life. Along with allies, it maintains a commerce and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, accusing it of terrorism which Qatar denies.
Facebook pronounces takedowns of “inauthentic behavior” as typically as a number of occasions a month, however statements that immediately hyperlink such conduct to a government are uncommon.
“For this operation, our investigators were able to confirm that the individuals behind this are associated with the government of Saudi Arabia,” mentioned Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity coverage.
“Anytime we have a link between an information operation and a government, that’s significant and people should be aware.”
Facebook additionally mentioned on Thursday it had suspended a separate community of greater than 350 accounts linked to advertising and marketing corporations in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In that case it didn’t immediately hyperlink the exercise to a government.
Gleicher mentioned the Saudi campaign operated on Facebook and its Instagram photo-sharing platform, primarily concentrating on nations within the Middle East and North Africa, together with Qatar, the UAE, Egypt Palestine.
The operation used faux accounts posing as these nations’ residents and pages designed to seem like native information retailers. More than $100,000 was spent on ads, Facebook mentioned.
“They would typically post in Arabic about regional news and political issues. They would talk about things like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – his internal and economic social reform plan, the successes of the Saudi armed forces, particularly during the conflict in Yemen,” mentioned Gleicher.