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Facebook removes hundreds of accounts accused of spreading misinformation

Niall Carson/PA Wire

By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent

Facebook has announced the removal of hundreds of accounts from the social network originating in the Middle East.

The company said it had found and removed two separate operations involved in "co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour" which was trying to mislead other users.

Facebook said both operations - one originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt and another in Saudi Arabia - attempted to spread propaganda by posing as local news organisations and spreading misinformation.

The social networking giant claimed those behind the accounts in Saudi Arabia had links to the country's government.

A total of 259 Facebook accounts, 102 pages, five groups and 17 Instagram accounts were removed in the UAE and Egypt, with more than 300 accounts, pages and groups and 31 Instagram accounts in Saudi Arabia.

"The two campaigns we removed were unconnected, but both created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing," said Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

On the operation in the UAE and Egypt, Mr Gleicher said the social network found links to two marketing firms and used the accounts to spread propaganda in the region.

"They also frequently posted about local news, politics, elections and topics including alleged support of terrorist groups by Qatar and Turkey, Iran's activity in Yemen, the conflict in Libya, successes of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and independence for Somaliland," Mr Gleicher said.

The social network said its investigation into the operation in Saudi Arabia "found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia".

"The page admins and account owners typically posted in Arabic about regional news and political issues, including topics like the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, his economic and social reform plan Vision 2030, and successes of the Saudi armed forces, particularly during the conflict in Yemen," Facebook said.

"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."

Facebook said it was "constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity" because it does not want its services to be used to "manipulate people".