A disinformation expert says a network of fake accounts are defending the United Nations’ decision to host this year’s COP28 climate talks in the oil-rich country, and to appoint UAE oil company CEO Sultan al-Jaber as the conference’s president.
Marc Owen Jones — a professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar who researchesdisinformationand digital media — says he first noticed the deception campaign after the controversial news of Jaber’s appointment made headlines.
“Suddenly, all these accounts appeared and started tweeting in defence of him,” Jones, author of Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. “I thought that was quite suspicious.”
Jones says he has identified a network of about 100 fake accounts and 30,000 tweets, all posting similar messages in defence of the UAE, Jaber and COP28.
COP28 did not respond to a request for comment from CBC before deadline, but a spokesperson told the Guardian the accounts “are generated by outside actors unconnected to COP28 and are clearly designed to discredit COP28 and the climate process.”
The COP28 office has reported the accounts to Twitter, the spokesperson said.
AI-generated photos and identical messages
The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference — also known as the 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP28 — kicks off in Dubai in late November, with Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, at the helm.
The UN’s choice of host country and conference president have drawn criticism from environmental groups and political leaders. But if you’re on social media, you might get the impression that Jaber and the UAE have a lot of grassroots support.
Accounts from supposed scientists, activists and regular people are calling Jaber “the ally the climate movement needs,” and posting messages saying: “UAE’s call for international co-operation and its commitment to being a perfect host for #COP28 is a testament to its leadership in tackling climate change.”
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