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UAE allegedly uses fake accounts to defend its hosting of COP28

Across Twitter and Medium, at least 100 fake accounts are posting positive sentiments about the United Arab Emirates and its controversial position as host nation of COP28. Experts claim its part of a shoddily executed popularity drive from within.

Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of state oil giant ADNOC, is an ‘ally the climate movement needs,’ according to a bunch of climate-activist accounts popping up across Twitter and Medium.

This is a far cry from the public contempt expressed just months ago, in which the head of global policy at Oil Change International, Romain Loualalen, equated Al Jaber’s host position to putting a tobacco boss in charge of negotiations for an anti-smoking treaty.

How then has the UAE managed to garner such dramatic backing from eco outfits despite its plans for record breaking (and net-zero compromising) oil expansion? It hasn’t, obviously.

A recent Twitter thread from Qatari-based social media and disinformation expert, Dr Marc Owen Jones, offers a more realistic explanation. Refuting the authenticity of over 100 accounts and 30,000 tweets and blog posts, he paints a picture of a ‘large multilingual astroturfing effort’ headed up by the UAE to falsely promote and defend Al Jaber.

The evidence to support this theory is nigh-on impossible to deny.

The vast majority of accounts came to existence in batches on three specific dates, profile pictures almost exclusively show AI generated people or stock photos, patterns of set posting times and generic language appear across the board, and the vast majority have no other internet presence to speak of.

A few particularly amusing oversights include a human rights supporter called @MahmudViyan, whose display picture had an un-cropped text annotation reading ‘’, and a UAE based space scientist, @FadelYael, whose profile picture is still traceable to a cosmetic dentistry website.

A post on Medium titled ‘Why Climate Activists Should Give Sultan Al Jaber a Chance’ came from Asher Siegel’s profile (now Alena Smith), which features a stock display picture linked to the user prompt: ‘handsome Syrian man at the train station.’

Closely following the activity of the accounts in question, Jones claimed that dozens simply switched over to new usernames once his exposé came out. ‘Whoever created this network is very aware that I tweeted this thread because they’ve now engaged in evasive action,’ he said.

Fingers are being pointed at Al Jaber as the primary suspect – as the greenwashing motive basically speaks for itself – but ‘attribution is very difficult,’ according to Jones. Based on previous experience, he believes we’re likely seeing the work of a strategic communications company on behalf of a figure or group within the UAE.

The region has a long track record with this sort of thing too. In-fact, Twitter data between 2018 and 2021 puts the UAE as one of the very worst offenders for state-backed social media operations after China.

Whether Al Jaber is directly involved or not, it appears this fanciful ploy to bring ecological advocates onside will only have caused more harm to his cause.