Army of fake social media accounts defend UAE's controversial hosting of COP28: report

Army of fake social media accounts defend UAE's controversial hosting of COP28: report
At least 100 fake social media accounts generating tens of thousands of tweets have been mobilised to defend the Gulf state amid a series of controversies over the UAE’s hosting of the COP28 conference.
3 min read
10 June, 2023
Dr Marc Owen Jones revealed that the accounts were entirely fake and designed to “greenwash” the UAE amid criticism [@marcownjones/twitter}

An army of fake social media accounts on Twitter and the blogging site Medium are being used to defend the controversial hosting of the COP28 summit by the UAE, recent reports revealed.

The fake social media accounts were uncovered by disinformation and Middle East expert Marc Owen Jones, who described it as "a large multilingual effort … involving 100 fake accounts and 30,000 tweets".

The social media accounts, many carrying pictures of entirely non-existent sultry blonde female environmental activists, all glowingly praising the UAE’s credentials as a leader on climate change.

According to Jones, this is "astroturfing", where the accounts are "pretending to be people that they’re not in order to give the illusion of popular grassroots support for a position".

Posts from the fake accounts claimed that the UAE was the "perfect host" for COP28, due to its "leadership in tackling climate change”, also claiming the Gulf country was “the ally the climate movement needs".

Others simply retweeted the government of the UAE’s official tweets or countered critical tweets by real users.

Jones said that the move was "an act of deception … examples of newspapers quoting them means they’ve definitely fooled people into believing they’re real people".

A spokesperson for COP28 claimed that "these [fake accounts] are generated by outside actors unconnected to COP28 and are clearly designed to discredit COP28 and the climate process."

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Sultan Al-Jaber, the CEO of the UAE’s state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), was assigned as the president of COP28.

ADNOC is the eighth-largest oil firm in the world and has been involved in the global expansion of fossil fuel use.

COP28, on the other hand, is committed to a global “net-zero” plan on fossil fuel consumption.

This has sparked accusations of a major conflict of interest that could potentially see the COP summit endeavours lose all credibility, with many activists claiming such credibility was already running low. 

In May, 133 members of the US Congress and European Parliament signed a letter calling on Al-Jaber to be removed as chairman of COP28. 

Christina Figueres, who was pivotal to the Paris Agreement and is the UN’s former climate chief, called Al-Jaber and the UAE’s approach to COP28 “very dangerous”, warning it was a “direct threat to the survival of vulnerable nations.”

The UAE has responded to this criticism with a series of underhand tactics to counter the backlash against COP28, including attempts to manipulate Wikipedia to “greenwash” Al-Jaber’s image.

It also emerged on Wednesday that ADNOC has been able to see emails sent and received by the COP28 office.

The COP28 summit is scheduled to go ahead in November.