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Facebook takes down major Saudi-linked propaganda campaign Open in fullscreen

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Facebook takes down major Saudi-linked propaganda campaign

Facebook says the Saudi-linked pages spread anti-Qatar, Iran and Turkey propaganda [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 August, 2019

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Social Media giant Facebook announced that it has taken down a major online propaganda network linked to the Saudi government.

Facebook says it has taken down a major online propaganda campaign linked to Saudi Arabia, removing hundreds of accounts and pages found to be propagating the kingdom's foreign policy positions.

The California-based social media giant said it identified two operations of "inauthentic behaviour" in the Middle East and North Africa region. One of the operations promoted the ultra conservative kingdom and disparaged its regional rivals, including Iran, Qatar and Turkey.

The other operation was identified as being linked to marketing firms in the United Emirates and Egypt - countries allied to Riyadh.

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said.

Gleicher added that the account administrators typically shared posts praising the kingdom's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while also hailing his ambitious projects and Saudi military successes in Yemen.

"They also frequently shared criticism of neighbouring countries including Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and called into question the credibility of Al-Jazeera news network and Amnesty International. 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 wrote.

Under the leadership of Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia has invested millions of dollars in PR firms tasked with painting the oil-rich kingdom in a positive light. The 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne has also attempted through media campaigns to portray himself as a liberal reformer.

The prince's propaganda efforts, however, have been blighted by frequent reports about continued human rights abuses in the kingdom and his iron-fisted campaign of shutting down dissent.

In late 2017, the prince arrested dozens of influential businessmen, public intellectuals, clerics and rival princes as part of what was touted as an 'anti-corruption' drive. The kingdom reportedly netted over $1bn in settlements from several of the detainees, some of whom were detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Last year, Prince Mohammed suffered his biggest public relations disaster in the aftermath of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
A UN report released in June said that "credible evidence" was found linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder and an attempted cover up.

Facebook has stepped up efforts to clamp down on fake accounts pushing political agendas following investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

An investigation by The Guardian found that a lobbying firm run by Sir Lynton Crosby, a close ally of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had covertly set up networks of 'news' pages on Facebook for a number of clients, including the Saudi government.

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