LONDON (Reuters) – People connected to the government of Saudi Arabia have run a network of fake accounts and pages on Facebook to promote state propaganda and attack regional rivals, the social media giant said on Thursday.
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.
Saudi - Government - Media - Office - Reuters
The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
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 - Iranian-backed - Campaign - Year - Riyadh
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.
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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.
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“Any time 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.
Gleicher said the Saudi campaign operated on Facebook and its Instagram photo-sharing platform,...
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