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Fake Twitter ‘blondes’ promote UAE climate summit

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A recent investigation has revealed the presence of a coordinated disinformation campaign targeting the upcoming COP28 climate summit, with fake Twitter accounts promoting the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) role in climate action. Referred to as the “American blondes,” these accounts, which appear to be generated using AI-powered picture generators, exhibit a remarkable level of support for the UAE and its COP28 chief, Sultan Al Jaber.

“Upon closer examination, analysts have identified numerous Twitter accounts engaged in this coordinated activity, labeling it as a form of “astroturfing,” where false grassroots campaigns are employed to influence public opinion. Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of non-governmental organizations, conducted a digital analysis and discovered that these “blonde” accounts were created within a short span of time in August 2022. The accounts frequently posted similar messages simultaneously, including retweets of content from the UAE embassy in Washington..”

“Summit organizers have yet to respond to requests for comment, but The Guardian reported an unnamed spokesperson stating that the fake accounts were generated by external actors unaffiliated with COP28 and were clearly aimed at discrediting both the summit and the climate process itself.”

“Lawmakers from the United States and European Union, as well as campaigners, have called for Sultan Al Jaber to step down from his position as COP28 chief, citing a conflict of interest due to his role as the head of the state-owned oil company ADNOC. They argue that it is problematic for someone involved in discussions concerning the reduction of carbon emissions to simultaneously hold a position tied to fossil fuels.”

“Despite these calls for his resignation, Sultan Al Jaber has received support from COP parties, including US climate envoy John Kerry. Al Jaber has advocated for the rapid development of renewable energy and recently acknowledged that a reduction in fossil fuel usage is inevitable.”

“The aim of the Twitter campaign was to portray Al Jaber as committed and capable of addressing the climate crisis. When individuals expressed concerns about COP28 potentially hindering the transition away from fossil fuels, they received responses from the identified fake accounts, with individuals such as “lawyer” Caitlin and “ecologist” Emma praising Al Jaber’s leadership and passion for climate action.”

“Additionally, when the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) highlighted attempts to downplay Al Jaber’s role as the head of ADNOC by editing Wikipedia pages, it prompted a similar response from 15 pro-UAE accounts. These accounts, claiming to be young non-Emiratis interested in climate change and human rights, actively voiced their support for Al Jaber.”

“Researchers have flagged several of these accounts as fake, with profile pictures bearing watermarks from online face generators, and reverse-image searches revealing that other account photos were sourced from stock image sites. Experts believe these inauthentic accounts demonstrate unusual behavior, such as changing screen names or biographies after being flagged.”

“Climate Action Against Disinformation has highlighted a “coordinated effort” involving at least 28 suspicious accounts promoting the UAE with distinct tweeting patterns. Digital disinformation analyst Marc Owen Jones has identified a list of 93 accounts associated with the “astroturfing” campaign, some of which were created more than two years ago. These accounts primarily focus on promoting the UAE’s COP28 account, amplifying official content, and engaging with foreign embassies.”

“This extensive disinformation campaign has caught the attention of observers, with Jamie Henn, director of the campaign group Fossil Free Media, stating that, in his over a decade of following UN climate talks, he has never witnessed such an elaborate disinformation effort.”

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