Facebook says it dismantles covert influence campaign tied to Saudi government

Facebook says it dismantles covert influence campaign tied to Saudi government
# 02 August 2019 12:47 (UTC +04:00)

People connected to the government of Saudi Arabia have run a network of fake accounts and pages on Facebook Inc to promote state propaganda and attack regional rivals, APA reports citing Reuters.

Facebook said it had suspended more than 350 accounts and pages with about 1.4 million followers, the latest takedown in an ongoing effort to combat “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its platform, and the first such activity 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 office, said in a statement.

Countries in the Middle East have increasingly turned to websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube to peddle covert political influence online.

Reuters detailed an expansive Iranian-backed campaign last year and Riyadh has been accused of using the same tactics to attack regional rival Qatar and spread disinformation following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Along with allies, it maintains a trade and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, accusing it of terrorism which Qatar denies.

Facebook announces takedowns of “inauthentic behavior” as often as multiple times a month, but statements that directly link such behavior to a government are rare.

“For this operation, our investigators were able to confirm that the individuals behind this are associated with the government of Saudi Arabia,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

“Anytime we have a link between an information operation and a government, that’s significant and people should be aware.”

Facebook also said on Thursday it had suspended a separate network of more than 350 accounts linked to marketing firms in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In that case it did not directly link the activity to a government.

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