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Facebook removes Egyptian accounts targeting Turkey, Sudan and Ethiopia

Accounts from Iran and Israel are also among 14 networks taken off social media platforms in latest purge of misinformation campaigns
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Facebook says it has removed networks engaging in deceptive campaigns that originated from Egypt (File photo/AFP)

Facebook has removed several Egypt-based accounts from its social media platforms that targeted Turkey, Sudan and Ethiopia, according to the company's latest report on deceptive campaigns.

The social media giant reported in its Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) for March, published on 6 April, that it removed 14 networks suspected of spreading misinformation - including accounts originating from Iran and Israel.

"Five networks - from Albania, Iran, Spain, Argentina, and Egypt - targeted primarily people outside of their countries," Facebook said. "Nine others - from Israel, Benin, Comoros, Georgia, and Mexico - focused on domestic audiences in their respective countries."

Facebook views CIB as coordinated efforts to "manipulate public debate for a strategic goal" where fake accounts are central to the operation. It says it has been conducting internal investigations for more than three years to tackle this issue.

The social media site said it identified a network last month that targeted Turkey, Sudan and Ethiopia, and linked it to a marketing firm in Egypt called Bee Interactive.

This network relied on a combination of authentic, duplicate and fake accounts and became particularly active in the summer of 2020, the report said.

Facebook CIB report examples of violation
Examples of deceptive campaigns identified by Facebook on its platforms targeting Turkey, Ethiopia and Sudan (Facebook)

"The people behind this activity posted in Amharic, Arabic and Turkish about news and political events in the countries they targeted, including positive commentary about the government of Egypt, Israel-Sudan relations and criticism of Turkish foreign policy and Ethiopia's mega-dam project," said the report, referring to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile that has been a sticking point in tri-lateral relations among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. 

The network had a presence on both Facebook and Instagram. About 304,000 accounts followed one or more of its Facebook pages and around 800 people followed one or more of its Instagram accounts.

According to the report, around $525,000 was spent for ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for primarily in Egyptian pounds and US dollars.

As a result, 17 Facebook accounts, six Pages and three Instagram accounts were removed for violating the platforms’ policy against “foreign interference”, which is CIB on behalf of a foreign entity, Facebook said.

Culling 'troll farm'

In the same report, Facebook said it also removed a network of over 300 accounts that appeared to be run from a troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e Khalq, commonly referred to as MEK or PMOI.

Facebook accuses opposition Iranian group of running 'troll farm' from Albania
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Facebook cited open-source reports that described MEK as running a “vast and highly guarded barracks” near the Albania capital, running accounts targeting primarily Iran and also global audiences with content related to Iran.

The operators used their accounts to post content - primarily in Farsi but sometimes in Arabic or English - that praised MEK and its leaders and criticised the Iranian government.

"They would tell us that the devices provided by the organisation were like weapons, and our tweets were bullets to shoot at the enemy," Facebook quoted one eyewitness involved in the operation.

During the same period, Facebook also removed accounts linked to a network from Iran that targeted Israel, as well as accounts from Israel that "targeted domestic audiences in that country".

In total, the social media network removed 1,167 Facebook accounts, 290 Instagram accounts, 255 pages and 34 groups in March for coordinated inauthentic behaviour, the report concluded.