Facebook removes fake accounts it says are tied to the Saudi government

The people behind the accounts posed as news outlets and criticized rival nations.

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Queenie Wong
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Facebook is cracking down on fake accounts.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook, which has been under fire for not doing enough to combat misinformation, said Thursday that it took down hundreds of fake accounts that had ties to the government of Saudi Arabia and that posed as news outlets and criticized rival countries.

The social media giant has previously announced takedowns of fake accounts associated with other countries, such as Russia and Iran. But the company typically stops short of directly linking fake accounts to a government. 

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia," Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a blog post


One of the fake accounts tied to Saudi Arabia posted about Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman kissing the head of a wounded soldier.


People behind these fake accounts pretended to be news organizations and created fake personas to run Pages and Groups on the social network. They posted propaganda about the Saudi Armed Forces and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. They also criticized countries such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey and attacked the Al-Jazeera news network and Amnesty International.

The government of Saudi Arabia didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Overall, Facebook pulled down 217 Facebook accounts, 144 Facebook Pages, five Facebook Groups and 31 Instagram accounts it said were tied to Saudi Arabia. These accounts spent $108,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads while raking up more followers, Facebook said. About 1.4 million accounts followed at least one of these Facebook Pages.

The social network removed these accounts for "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which means they misled others about who they were and the purpose behind the account. 

Separately, Facebook also found another network of fake accounts tied to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, but it didn't specify government involvement in those cases. The social network removed 259 Facebook accounts, 102 Facebook Pages, five Facebook Groups, four Facebook Events and 17 Instagram accounts associated with those two countries.

"We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we've said before, it's an ongoing challenge," Gleicher said.