Facebook just took down hundreds of accounts connected to the Saudi Arabian government, which were being used to spread propaganda

Business Insider US
Mohammed bin Salman
Then Saudi Arabia deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 opening ceremony in Hangzhouin September 2016 (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri - Pool/Getty Images)

  • Facebook on Thursday said it took down a vast network of fan pages and fake accounts that were linked to the Saudi Arabian government.
  • The social network suspended more than 350 different accounts and pages, which had about 1.4 million followers.
  • Facebook said the operation, which built fake people and accounts, was designed to increase support for the Saudi Arabian government while attacking its enemies.
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Facebook on Thursday announced it had taken down hundreds of fake accounts originating from Saudi Arabia, which were designed to mislead people and bolster support for the Saudi government.

In a Facebook Newsroom post, the company's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher shared that Facebook had discovered, and suspended, two separate operations: one originated from Saudi Arabia, while the other began in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two operations were not linked, according to Facebook.

In total, Facebook said it removed 217 accounts, 144 pages, five groups and 31 Instagram accounts "that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior originating from Saudi Arabia."

According to Gleicher, people created fake pages and accounts, plus "masqueraded as local news organizations," to talk about local news and political issues - usually in a positive light. Posts touched on the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the "successes of the Saudi Armed Forces" in Yemen. They also created negative posts that criticised "neighboring countries including Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and called into question the credibility of Al-Jazeera news network and Amnesty International," according to Facebook.

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia," Gleicher said.

Facebook shared a couple of examples of these inauthentic posts, including one that was dated on November 6, 2018. The time frame for these posts is still unclear, so there may be examples of posts that are older than November 2018, but Facebook has not said one way or the other.

Facebook says the individuals responsible for these posts spent about $108,000 (R1.6 million) on Facebook and Instagram ads, and their posts reached about 1.4 million accounts.

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