San Francisco (AFP)

Facebook announced Thursday it has blocked two manipulation campaigns, one orchestrated since Saudi Arabia, the other from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and directed against multiple countries in the Maghreb and the Middle East, including the Qatar.

In all the social network has removed not far from 800 accounts, pages, groups and events, mainly on Facebook but also on Instagram, which he sought to stir up tensions in some states or to discredit leaders and governments.

The perpetrators of these campaigns tried to hide their identities, but network engineers found connections with individuals linked to the Saudi government on the one hand, and with two marketing companies, New Waves in Egypt and Newave in the UAE.

"In each of these two (unrelated) cases, people acted in a concerted manner and used false accounts to pretend to be other people and entities," said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of the cybersecurity of Facebook. "That's why we intervened."

The organizers of the Saudi campaign were portrayed as local media, discussing topics such as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his political vision, the success of the Saudi army in Yemen, and criticism and accusations against neighboring countries. , including Iran, Qatar and Turkey.

Among the examples published by Facebook, an Instagram account called "the life of Mohammed ben Salman" (in English) posted in November a photo of the Saudi crown prince kissing a man wounded in the head in a hospital, presented as a soldier, with a legend making the leader's apology, which the Saudis "love as their own family".

"We are constantly working to identify and stop this type of activity because we do not want our services to be used to manipulate people, we delete these pages and accounts because of their behavior, not because of published content." recalls Facebook, which blocked several manipulation campaigns, including a visit from Iran last January.

The social network, widely criticized for failing to block massive manipulation attempts on its platforms, especially during major polls in 2016, undertook to invest and communicate on its efforts to prevent this from happening again and to restore confidence in its users.

More than 13.7 million accounts followed the campaign's pages from Egypt and the UAE, and about 1.4 million followed those from the Saudi campaign.

Qatar has been under embargo since 2017 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

© 2019 AFP