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Facebook Removes Accounts Linked to Saudi Arabia's Government

FILE - A Facebook address sign is seen at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
FILE - A Facebook address sign is seen at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts linked to Saudi Arabia's government as part of an effort to end what it described as "inauthentic behavior," a Facebook security official said.

A press release says individuals affiliated with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia used Facebook and related social media platforms to publicize government objectives and spread propaganda under the guise of fake accounts.

The social media company says it removed 217 accounts, 144 pages, five groups and five Instagram accounts that were linked to the government of Saudi Arabia.

"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 Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said Thursday.

This is the first time Facebook has identified Saudi Arabia as being behind deceptive social media messages.

The U.S. company said online posts both promoted domestic policies and took aim at regional rivals and were often portrayed as local news outlets.

"Postings focused on, among other things, "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," Gleicher wrote.

"They also frequently shared criticism of neighboring countries, including Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and called into question the credibility of the Al-Jazeera television channel and rights group Amnesty International," he continued.

According to Facebook, approximately 1.4 million people followed at least one of the accounts linked to Saudi Arabia.

Facebook also took down 259 accounts, 102 Pages, five groups, four events and 17 Instagram accounts linked to two marketing firms: New Waves in Egypt & Newave in the UAE. The accounts were not related to Saudi Arabia-backed accounts, however they targeted the same countries.

American regulators and lawmakers have applied increased scrutiny on Facebook as intelligence officials say Russia used social media sites to meddle in U.S. elections.

"We're constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," said Gleicher. "We're taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted."