Facebook announced that it had removed 259 accounts, allegedly part of a Saudi Arabian propaganda network.
The accounts, the pages set up by the accounts, and the events hosted by the pages promoted propaganda about the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, his “Vision 2030,” and the success of the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces in Yemen. 217 accounts, 144 Facebook pages, 5 Facebook groups, and 31 Instagram accounts were all a part of this network.
The communications chief involved in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani, is believed to have been involved in the making of these accounts.
Saudi Arabia spent $108,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads that targeted Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. The pages managed by the fake accounts made content that imitated local news coverage. The approach was similar to that taken by billionaire Reid Hoffman’s disinformation campaign in Alabama, the Russian disinformation campaign, and the current plan by Democratic SuperPAC Priorities USA (except Priorities USA did not purchase fake accounts.)
The Saudi ArabianCenter for International Communication told CNN “The government of Saudi Arabia has no knowledge of the mentioned alleged ‘extensive covert information operation’ and does not know on what basis such an operation was linked to it.”
CNN stated that the investigative website Bellingcat identified the pages so that Facebook could take them down. Bellingcat released a report in June that detailed al-Qahtani’s plan to start a social media propaganda operation, which included the purchase and creation of fake social media accounts.
One of the posts, used by Facebook as an example, had the caption, “Why do Saudis love their leaders the way they love their family? Simply, because their leaders share the same feelings with them.”