Facebook Announced It Removed An Influence Campaign With Ties To Saudi Arabia

The company removes pages, accounts, groups and events over what it calls 'coordinated inauthentic behavior.'

Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in 2018.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The company removes pages, accounts, groups and events over what it calls 'coordinated inauthentic behavior.'

Facebook announced Thursday that it removed inauthentic accounts, pages, and groups that were affiliated with the Saudi government, according to a report from CNN.

The pages had ties to people affiliated with the Saudi Arabian government and attempted to prop up the current regime and attack its enemies, per CNN.

In a statement from Facebook on Thursday, the company said it removed some 259 accounts, more than 100 pages, five groups, four events, and nearly 20 Instagram accounts associated with fraudulent behavior in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. It removed another 217 accounts, 144 pages, five groups, and 31 Instagram pages originating from Saudi Arabia.

The press release titled “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia” revealed that the company eliminated several pages and groups over what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

As CNN noted, this marks the first time the company has said it has taken down accounts that originated in Saudi Arabia for this reason. The social media company noted the campaigns it removed in the UAE and in Egypt were separate from the one that originated in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the accounts impersonated public figures, according to Facebook. Pages removed frequently posted about a variety of topics, including local news and politics, and involved alleged support of terrorist groups by Qatar and Turkey and other middle eastern conflicts, including those Libya and in Yemen.

While Facebook did not say who the individuals running the accounts were, they did say the accounts and pages were linked to the Saudi government. According to CNN, the pages and accounts that were removed were part of a network that included fictitious personas that were involved in hundreds of pages and accounts on the website. The pages taken down had spent a total of $100,000 on advertising on Facebook and Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.

Facebook did say it was able to link pages and accounts it removed to a marketing firm in the UAE and one in Egypt.

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Facebook said in the statement authored by Nathaniel Gleicher, its head of cybersecurity, that it had forwarded the information it collected about the accounts to law enforcement.

“We have shared information about our findings with law enforcement, industry partners and policymakers,” Gleicher said.

According to a video posted by Facebook in 2018, “coordinated inauthentic behavior” is a term coined by Facebook to describe users or groups on its website who misrepresent who they are or what they are doing on the social media website. In the video, Facebook notes that the problem is not unique to Facebook and said while the content the pages post may not be false, the accounts, pages, and groups are removed due to the misrepresentation about who is behind the persona or group.

As an example, Facebook said it may remove a group that hasn’t violated any of its posting guidelines or community standards rules but makes it appear that its content is being posted from a location other than where it actually originated.