Al Jazeera to Facebook: Get Your Shit Together on Disinformation

is demanding that wipe out a Emirati-backed disinformation marketing campaign to discredit its reporting, in accordance to a letter despatched to firm executives and obtained by VICE News.

The Qatari-backed information outlet referred to as for the suspension of Facebook and Instagram pages it claims are a part of a smear job that paints Al Jazeera as a harmful press organ that incites violence.

Researchers say the pages have been essential nodes in a digital marketing campaign to promote Saudi-aligned pursuits for greater than two years, and lobbying disclosures reviewed by VICE News recommend they’re one piece of a broader Emirati effort to flip American and authorities officers towards Al Jazeera.

“The UAE is weaponizing and manipulating social media platforms to achieve a geopolitical goal,” Mohammed Osman Abu Baker, supervisor of Al Jazeera’s authorized affairs division, wrote to Facebook executives. “This is precisely the type of abuse by foreign powers that Facebook’s and Instagram’s policies aim to curtail.”

The letter famous that Twitter and YouTube have already banned accounts linked to the precise pages in query: QatariLeaks. While Facebook has zapped accounts pushing anti-Al Jazeera content material previously, it didn’t reply to a number of studies flagging QatariLeaks in October. Instagram handed on a takedown, the letter mentioned, including additional confusion to how the completely different platforms method disinformation.

“This case is clear-cut and demands immediate attention and action,” Abu Baker added.

Facebook had but to reply to the letter by Monday morning, and spokespeople for Facebook and Instagram didn’t reply to VICE News’ request for remark.

Networks of pro-Saudi bots

QatariLeaks payments itself on its web site as “young volunteer publishers” who expose Qatari overseas coverage throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Facebook’s transparency instrument says the web page is run by six customers in Egypt. Until just lately it fed greater than 16,000 Facebook followers a gentle stream of Arabic- and English-language posts to discredit and Al Jazeera, sharing an analogous mix on Instagram.

One Facebook video this summer season referred to as the outlet “an official platform for terrorists,” criticizing an interview of a cleric with alleged ties to the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Sites together with the Riyadh-backed media outlet Al Arabiya and the Saudi Gazette ran their very own equivalent tales on the interview.

It’s unclear if QatariLeaks has marketed on both platform. But the Facebook web page has gained greater than 1,000 new followers this month regardless of posting no new natural content material.

A message left via the location’s contact kind has not been answered. The Emirati and Saudi embassies in Washington have additionally not responded to VICE News’ request for remark.

Marc Owen Jones, a disinformation researcher at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, described QatariLeaks as “one of the main posters of anything sketchy” inside a broader disinformation marketing campaign by Saudi- and Emirati-aligned pursuits since 2017. The community of opaque social accounts and Twitter bots promoted hashtags together with “Al Jazeera Is the Source of Lies” and “We Demand the Closing of the Channel of Pigs” that trended in .

“It was designed to look like there were Saudi citizens, who were really bots,” Jones informed VICE News. “Whoever was running the bot networks was obviously boosting QatariLeaks.”

Facebook and Twitter have introduced the bans of 1000’s of accounts throughout the Middle East in latest months, more and more sharing info and coordinating responses. At occasions run by third-party advertising companies, the campaigns have reached hundreds of thousands of followers and spent tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} promoting. Some have taken purpose at Al Jazeera.

Facebook claims it avoids judgment calls on the message or content material of posts in policing what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Instead, it tries to zero in on misleading behaviors by customers who could also be attempting to manipulate public debate.

“If we see any instances of [coordinated inauthentic behavior] conducted on behalf of a government entity or by a foreign actor, we will apply the broadest enforcement measures including the removal of every on-platform property connected to the operation itself and the people and organizations behind it,” Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher wrote in an October weblog publish.

Mass takedowns

Al Jazeera’s letter to Facebook marked an escalation of its bid for the platforms to increase their crackdown. Representatives for the broadcaster informed VICE News that since early September, they’ve reported 375 Twitter bots, lots of which originated in Saudi Arabia, selling content material from @360motions. Twitter has eliminated at the very least 248 of these accounts, together with @360motions.

But @360_motions since reappeared on Twitter, and 360 Motions stays on YouTube, illustrating the whack-a-mole nature of banning disinformation campaigns. One latest video, crafted within the model of a cell advert, tied a cringeworthy headline about Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the account’s broader messaging.

“The Washington Post took a page from al-Jazeera’s book when they mourned ISIS’s leader al-Baghdadi with an offensive post,” learn the video’s description.

That rhetoric has grown extra widespread since 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and different nations blockaded Qatar and broke off diplomatic ties. They accused it of supporting terrorism, a cost that the tiny however energy-rich nation denies, and referred to as for it to shutter Al Jazeera.

The outlet has produced prestigious English-language journalism around the globe, however critics — together with former staffers — have argued that it has a extra activist voice on its Arabic channel. That’s been a rising level of friction since its aggressive protection of the uprisings towards regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa often called the Arab Spring.

Bloomberg reported final month that the UAE has since been hammering Al Jazeera via a conventional lobbying marketing campaign in Washington. Lobbyists visited or contacted lawmakers and journalists dozens of occasions over the previous two years, in accordance to disclosures reviewed by VICE News, arguing it ought to register as a overseas agent, like Russia Today has. Al Jazeera and a few press freedom teams have vehemently pushed again on the suggestion.

Those affect operations, coupled with worldwide arms transfers, have lengthy been used to undertaking energy within the regional dispute between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and their respective allies. But the media battlefield — a centralized broadcaster vs. opaque social media campaigns — seems to be increasing.

“You contest this space, you create armies of bots, you enlist influencers, or co-opt, or intimidate them, and you manipulate this landscape now,” Alexei Abrahams, who researches disinformation at The Citizen Lab on the University of Toronto, informed VICE News. “The lights that turned on with the advent of social media? Now the lights have been dimmed or turned off again. We don’t know what to make of what we’re reading.”

Cover: A banner depicting detained journalist Mahmoud Hussein (portrait) hangs on Al-Jazeera’s constructing facade in Doha on September 19, 2019 throughout a solidarity marketing campaign for his launch. (Photo: KARIM JAAFAR/AFP by way of Getty Images)

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