COP28

The research found that the content revolved around praising ADNOC chief and COP President-designate Sultan Al Jaber, along with promoting a positive image of the UAE and COP28, positioning them as environmentally responsible entities.

Research identifies bots engaged in greenwashing during COP28

New research says that a network of at least 1,900 bots is actively engaged in greenwashing COP28 on Twitter/X, connected to a larger network of 7,000 bots, seemingly aligned with UAE foreign policy

According to a new report, around 1,900 Twitter/X greenwashing bots have been identified that are working to promote an environmentally friendly image for the current COP28 presidency. 

Marc Owen Jones, the academician working on exposing disinformation networks, has uncovered bots on Twitter, participating in greenwashing activities related to COP28. The research said this extensive bot network, numbering at least 7,000 accounts, appears to be associated with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or a UAE-aligned entity. The bots engage in posting content on various issues to create a sense of authenticity about these AI-powered accounts.

Affiliation with the UAE?

While not explicitly confirmed, the broader network’s alignment with UAE foreign policy strongly suggests an affiliation in line with common trends observed in cyber operations.

The research found that the content revolved around praising ADNOC chief and COP President-designate Sultan Al Jaber, along with promoting a positive image of the UAE and COP28, positioning them as environmentally responsible entities.

Additionally, these bots operate with a meticulous strategy that has a clear division of labour, distinguishing between ‘minions’ and ‘generals’. The minions, tasked with boosting engagement, primarily like and amplify content generated by the ‘generals’. The generals, in turn, post original content that aligns with the network’s objectives.

An army of bots 

The researcher has so far identified 22 generals who kick-started the conversation, more than 1,850 accounts that function as minions, amplifying the content generated by the general accounts. The bots are organised into units or cells, each assigned to like tweets by specific generals, potentially as a measure to avoid detection by Twitter/X.

The research revealed that general accounts, which are also verified on Twitter,  such as bint_jumeiraah and BkhetaElbasbosy, play a significant role and receive more engagement. BkhetaElbasbosy’s profile picture, traced back to a TikTok account, adds authenticity.

To strengthen the authenticity of the messaging, the research said, the campaign included both old and new accounts. In other words, some accounts which were created back in 2009 were scrubbed and repurposed. Similar bots were identified prior to COP back in June, and those accounts were deleted later.  

The researcher, Marc Owen Jones, is an associate professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University, specialising in political repression and disinformation. His recent research focuses on the use of social media for spreading disinformation in the Middle East. 

Jones empirically identified the general accounts receiving suspicious likes and used an X scrapper tool to download those accounts involved in the campaign and compiled a long list of bots. This data was then used to construct a graph with Gephi, revealing the intricate relationships within the network. The identified network is linked to a similar one identified in 2022, which promoted praise for ADNOC through MBZ’s account.

 
The researcher believed there may be a similar network on Reddit, engaging in analogous activities.