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Facebook shuts down pro-Bashir accounts pushing for coup in Sudan

Social media giant also removes accounts in Algeria, Iraq and Jordan
A man poses for a selfie with a miniature Sudanese flag on his forehead on 22 June 2019 at a rally in Abraq, about 60km northwest of Khartoum (AFP)

Facebook has removed accounts advocating for a coup in Sudan in a mass cull of hundreds of fake pages across the Middle East and North Africa promoting misinformation, according to a report released on Thursday. 

In its June Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour report, the social media giant identifies pages in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and Sudan that violate company policy on foreign interference and "manipulat[ing] public debate for strategic goals" with fake accounts. 

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Facebook removed 53 accounts, 51 pages, three groups and 18 Instagram accounts in Sudan, some of which were pushing for a coup and the return of former ruler Omar Hassan al-Bashir. 

Researchers at Valent Group, a digital agency based in London, helped Facebook identify the accounts, which collectively amassed 1.8 million followers.

"The individuals behind this activity used duplicate and fake accounts - some of which were already detected and disabled by our automated systems - to manage pages, drive people to their website, evade enforcement, post, and amplify their content to make it appear more popular than it was," Facebook's report reads.

Content posted by the pages included support for normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel, and criticism of the Communist Party, secularism, feminism, and Sudan's current transitional government. 

The pages Facebook removed operated mainly in Arabic and were linked to individuals in Sudan, including those involved with the Future Movement for Reform and Development, a political party.

Algeria

Facebook also removed a network of 130 accounts, 221 pages, 35 groups and 29 Instagram accounts in Algeria. 

The accounts had links to individuals inside the country, with some working for the 2019 campaign of current Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Posted in Arabic, the network spread commentary supportive of the Algerian military, and comments critical of ethnic minorities, opposition journalists and dissidents living in Algeria and abroad. 

The network amassed 3.97 million followers across its different pages. 

Iraq

In Iraq, Facebook removed a network of 675 Facebook accounts, 16 pages and 10 Instagram accounts. 

Facebook said the network originated in Iraq but promoted information on behalf of a foreign entity - sharing news supportive of Iran, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah. 

Before the network was taken down it had at least 361,000 followers on Facebook and 216,000 followers on its Instagram accounts.  

Most of the fake accounts were created in October 2020 and became heavily active in April 2021, with many using stock photos as profile pictures. 

Jordan 

In Jordan, Facebook removed a network of at least 89 accounts, 35 pages, three groups and 16 Instagram accounts targeting Jordanians.

It was followed by 634,000 accounts.

Posts generated by the network included commentary supportive of Jordan's King Abdullah, and on coronavirus, patriotism and Palestine. 

The network had links to individuals in Jordan associated with the Jordanian military, and had spent $26,500 in advertising on Facebook and Instagram.