We’ve all heard about online ‘dark arts’ techniques. Whether in relation to Russia, the EU, Brexit or Trump. But have you ever seen them for yourself? The ones that are designed to target you, as a UK citizen? Well, look no further.
Since early June 2018, several UK-based human rights accounts have been spoofed so as to feed disinformation to the UK public.
Unknown influence professionals have launched a coordinated effort to establish five duplicate human rights Twitter feeds and at least one website. They have mirrored and modified legitimate accounts in order to obfuscate the truth and stop the UK public being informed about abuses happening right now in wealthy kingdoms of the Arabian Gulf.
In one instance, the Twitter account of a genuine UK-based human rights organization, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (@AohrUk) was spoofed by the hackers, who created a near-identical Twitter account, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights- EU and UK (@organisationeu).
The hackers have also spoofed a UK-based organization following human rights issues in Africa. The legitimate Africa Culture International Human Rights (@ACIHUMAN) became the, African Organization for Human Rights (@AciRights).
@ACIHUMAN’s profile picture (Legitimate)
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@AciRights’s profile picture (Illegitimate)
In both cases, the impersonators exactly copied the brand logos of the real organizations:
These efforts appear connected and working in concert for a common cause. Both are pushing a pro-Saudi narrative, in direct contradiction to messaging from the genuine human rights organizations.
The fake account @OrganisationEU, for example, tweets almost exclusively negative content about Qatar, Turkey, and other states that are considered to be rivals of Saudi Arabia:
Top Five Topics:
Human rights violations committed by Qatar.
Qatar supports terrorism and sows chaos throughout the world.
Despotic and destabilizing behavior of Qatar and Turkey.
Iran, Turkey, and Qatar work together to support terrorism and work against the Arab nation.
General anti-Qatari propaganda: Qatar’s economy is collapsing, Qatar supports terrorism, etc.
Just a little extra social network analysis reveals that these Twitter accounts are regularly supported by three additional accounts with similar claims of human rights credentials. All five fake accounts promote and retweet each other, mutually supporting a common narrative and undermining the legitimate work of the human rights organizations in the UK.
To better understand this support network, have a look at this ‘node analysis’ map:
Each circle or node represents a Twitter account, with the size of the node indicating the number of followers belonging to the account (the larger the node, the more followers it has).
Each line that connects one node to another represents retweets or the sharing of another account’s content. Each of these connections also has an arrow pointed toward the account responsible for the retweets. The bolder the line, the more retweets that account has carried out:
There’s a strong relationship between the five fraudulent accounts and @QatariLeaks, a well-known Saudi propaganda outlet
While other accounts have one-off incidents of being retweeted by these accounts, such as Sky News, @QatariLeaks is clearly being amplified by a coordinated and substantial effort by the imposter human rights organizations, so as to give the appearance of legitimacy
And that is what real-time misinformation looks like.
And it’s being targeted at you, right now.
Sven Hughes is Group CEO of Verbalisation & Global Influence