Saudi Arabia is at the centre of a new scandal involving the use of Facebook to spread misinformation through fake campaigns promoted on the pages of the social media giant. Details uncovered by the Guardian show that the kingdom paid millions of pounds to a firm owned by Sir Lynton Crosby – a prominent right-wing political strategist – to improve the image of Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.
Crosby's firm CTF is a global leader dealing with everything from traditional lobbying to data science, reputation management for wealthy clients and political campaigning. He is often employed by tobacco companies and some of the planets' worst polluters and despots to soften their public image. He has masterminded campaigns for right-wing political parties and is described as having run one of the most racist political campaigns in recent history while playing the role of key strategist for the Conservative candidate Zak Goldsmith who stood against the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan during the 2016 mayoral campaign.
In the latest scandal involving Facebook – which is not too dissimilar to the Cambridge Analytica story -, Saudi Arabia is reported to have employed CTF's "professionalised online disinformation" strategies "to burnish the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman". One of these campaigns was coordinated during Bin Salman's tour of the UK in 2018. The Guardian reported that that CTF Partners earned millions of pounds to coordinate press coverage around the arrival of the crown prince prior to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, over which he has been implicated by the UN and US intelligence.
Details of the Guardian's investigation were released as Facebook announced that it had dismantled covert influence campaign tied to the Saudi government. The tech giant said that it had identified people connected to the government of Saudi Arabia running a network of fake accounts and pages on the social media platform to promote state propaganda and attack regional rivals. More than 350 accounts and pages with about 1.4 million followers were suspended.