Fake social media profiles wage “organised” propaganda campaign on Cop28

Over a hundred Twitter profiles are suspected of a coordinated effort to influence opinion online. The Cop28 team says these activities are “unacceptable”.

Fake social media profiles have been spreading propaganda messages about Cop28 and attacking criticism of its host, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in what experts called an “organised” campaign.

Purporting to be genuine people based in the UAE, scores of individual Twitter accounts publish similar positive content and defend the UAE in replies to posts by campaigners or journalists.

At least a hundred profiles engaged in such behaviour have been identified by Marc Owen Jones, a digital disinformation expert at the Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar.

Twitter suspended a handful of those accounts after Jones publicly exposed them last week. But many others remain active having now transitioned to different personas overnight.

Climate Home News has independently analysed the activities of some of the most active profiles. They were all created in February 2022, using fake profile pictures and unlikely biographies, and display a suspicious pattern of activities.

‘Coordinated network’

When taken together, they appear to be engaged in an orchestrated attempt to promote the UAE.

“This is definitely organised”, Marc Owen Jones told Climate Home News. ” The accounts are part of a coordinated network, using the same modus operandi.”

Colombia accuses Drummond coal mining exec of funding paramilitary group

He says the accounts appear to carry out a strategic communication campaign promoting the Cop28, among other UAE policy matters.

“A lot of their efforts go towards damage limitation. Whenever there is negative content about Cop28, they swing into action to try and balance the narrative, muddy the waters,” he added.

🧵1/There is a large, multilingual astroturfing effort around #Cop28 on Twitter right now involving at least 100 fake accounts. The accounts in question are promoting UAE foreign policy, bashing UAE's enemies, and burnishing the UAE's environmental record #deception #greenwashing pic.twitter.com/84uz5X8W81

— Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) June 2, 2023

Proving who is behind these accounts is difficult and neither Jones or Climate Home News has evidence the Cop28 team or any UAE government agency is running them.

A Cop28 UAE spokesperson told Climate Home News that such engagement is “unacceptable” and goes against their commitment to authenticity and transparency.

“The Cop28 team is already aware of fake accounts and bots coordinating in manipulation on the platform and violating Twitter’s manipulation and spam policy,” they added. “We have written to Twitter directly requesting assistance to take immediate action to stop this activity and to remove all fake accounts and bots.”

Comment: Climate movement must switch on to UAE threat

But Marc Owen Jones believes that, given the scale and content type, the “most likely explanation” is that this operation is run by a PR firm working for an entity in the UAE.

Identical messages

The tweets are generally responses or quote-tweets to tweets by the UAE government. But some are exactly the same as the UAE government’s tweets.

Jones said whoever was running these accounts were either copying the government’s language or “the same social media company manages the accounts of government officials and the fake accounts.”

One example is ‘Viyan Mahmud’. Like most of the accounts, it was created in February 2022.

“Mahmud” purported to be a human rights advocate in the UAE. As its profile picture, it displayed a computer-generated image with the line ‘this person does not exist” still emblazoned on top.

Initially its feed alternated propaganda messages about the UAE with pictures of luxury handbags and collectible sneakers.

Amplifying the government message

But on March 27th ‘Viyan Mahmud’ wrote: “We welcome the activation of the Transitional Committee on the #LossAndDamage Fund and funding arrangements…”. The same tweet and the same picture had been posted 30 minutes earlier by the official Cop28 account.

The pattern repeated itself at the beginning of May when the UAE’s Cop28 team unveiled its agenda at the Petersberg Climate Summit. Following a bilateral meeting with world leaders, the official account of UAE’s Climate Minister Mariam Almheiri published the following tweet:

During the Global Response to Climate Impacts session, on the sidelines of #PetersbergClimateDialogue I discussed the significance of the Global Goal on Adaptation outcome at #COP28 & how it can support national policy measures to enhance adaptive capacity & reduce vulnerability. pic.twitter.com/9SchVA3wMi

— Mariam Almheiri | مريم المهيري (@mariammalmheiri) May 3, 2023

Afterward, ‘Viyan Mahmud’ posted the same picture of Almheiri and US Special Envoy John Kerry saying “shared my views on the crucial role of Global Goal on Adaptation at COP28…”. The message is remarkably similar to Almheiri’s and, like that one, it appears to be conveying the Climate Minister’s personal thoughts.

The tweet was originally published when the account was still named ‘Viyan Mahmud’. It has since been rebranded into ‘Amina Mahi’, the name that appears on this screenshot.

After being exposed by Dr. Jones, the ‘Viyan Mahmud’ account has undergone a complete makeover.

It is now called ‘Amina Mahi’ and claims to be a tech enthusiast. The profile picture has been changed to a portrait photo of the Indian TikToker Arishfa Khan. It continues to share professionally-crafted pro-UAE c

Read More