- Facebook removed accounts behind a campaign targeting Manchester City
- Users were directed to bogus stories that reported persistent slurs against City
- City’s owners were accused of buying the club in order to clean their reputation
Facebook has cracked down on a fake news campaign targeted at discrediting Manchester City.
The social media giants have removed dozens of accounts, pages, groups and Instagram accounts after what it deemed a violation of its policy ‘against foreign or government interference’.
In a fascinating development that appears to shine a light on the lengths to which some will go to discredit their rivals, users were directed to bogus stories which reported persistent slurs against the Premier League champions.
City are owned by Sheik Mansour, Abu Dhabi royal family member and deputy Prime Minister of the country. And while the now-deleted accounts were based in India, many had also run stories praising events in Qatar.
Relations between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which includes Abu Dhabi, have been strained for a number of years. Those involved in what appears to be a co-ordinated fake news operation also targeted the human rights record of Saudi Arabia — another country with whom Qatar is at odds.
The details of the crackdown were reported in Facebook’s ‘Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour Report’. Each month it details which propaganda campaigns it has removed from its platforms — which include Instagram — in the previous four weeks. India, thanks to its high numbers of IT-skilled inhabitants, is often seen as a hotspot for fake news operations.
City are owned by Sheik Mansour, Abu Dhabi royal family member and deputy Prime Minister of the country
In a parallel report, the social media company Graphika, which worked with Facebook, detailed the activity of what it believed were pro-Qatar ‘bots’ — software applications that run automated tasks over the internet and which have been previously found to have been at the centre of attempts to influence the world’s political agenda and elections.
Graphika probed a series of anti-City stories on a now-removed website named the Mirror Herald. In the stories, and in a number of social media posts, City’s owners were accused of ‘sportswashing’ — the act of owning a team or hosting an event to clean their reputation.
One such article accused the UAE of spending heavily on City to ‘hide its human rights violations and contributions to the menacing wars in Yemen and Libya’. The same website also hailed the Emir of Qatar while criticising the Saudi Crown Prince.
City have long held a belief that their ownership has been targeted by its rivals. They declined to comment on the matter but it is understood that officials at the Etihad Stadium are aware of Facebook’s actions.