Digital Forensic Research Lab explores disinformation campaigns in the Middle East

Image credit: @ZKharazian/DFRLab

Online information and disinformation has been playing a pivotal role in shaping public opinion throughout the Middle East and North Africa for over a decade. In the past week alone, Atlantic Council researchers with the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) have published four articles examining the origins of various MENA-based disinformation campaigns and the tell-tale signs of their inauthentic operations. From faux fact-checkers in the Tunisian presidential election to Turkish Twitter bots denouncing Kurdish groups, these stories span numerous countries and topics. Take a look at some excerpts from these articles below.

Bot-like Turkish accounts complement military operation in Syria

As Turkish forces continued to bombard the Kurdish militia allied with the United States in its counter-Islamic State campaign in northeastern Syria, Turkish accounts waged a parallel hashtag campaign on Twitter: #BabyKillerPKK.

While other investigators in this space have now identified the same network, the DFRLab independently found evidence to suggest a portion of the hashtag traffic was driven by bot-like accounts.

Facebook removes assets connected to Egyptian newspaper El Fagr

On October 3, 2019, Facebook removed 163 Facebook accounts, 51 pages, 33 groups, and four Instagram accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior originating from Egypt.

A majority of the removed pages posted content about Egyptian politics, praising the current government led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood for sowing chaos in Egypt. The pages also pushed narratives casting cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a positive light, while simultaneously spreading messages critical of Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and the Houthi movement in Yemen.

UAE-based Facebook pages targeted Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood

On October 3, 2019, Facebook removed dozens of assets operated by a for-profit marketing firm and originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from its platform for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

According to Facebook’s statement, the pages ran operations with the aim of “artificially increas[ing] engagement” in several countries, with a focus on the Middle East-North Africa region. In terms of content, many of the assets disseminated messaging critical of the Qatari government, along with criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sorting fact from fiction in Tunisia’s presidential election

As Tunisian voters go to the polls to cast their ballots for president this weekend, the North African country finds itself sorting through a messy information environment where a candidate owns his own TV network and fact-checkers cannot always be separated from political partisans. Saturday’s runoff culminates an expedited election cycle to select the country’s new head of state, following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi at the age of 92 this summer.