Facebook has removed 18 community pages that violated its terms by spreading co-ordinated inauthentic posts to create the impression a large number of Libyans yearned for the return of the Qaddafi family nine years after the uprising that toppled the long-time dictatorship, Stanford University researchers claimed.
The accounts were removed for violating the platform's terms of service by amplifying their message through the use of inauthentic accounts.
The 18 pages, studied by Stanford University's Cyber Policy Centre, posted identical nostalgic posts about former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and supportive posts for his son Saif Al Islam.
Muammar Qaddafi was killed in 2011 following uprisings that blew across the Middle East, deposing him from his 42-year unchallenged rule.
There has been an outstanding warrant from the International Criminal Court for murder and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity against Saif Qaddafi, 47, since 2011. The charges related to actions he is accused of coordinating across Libya in two weeks in February 2011, through the state apparatus and security forces.
He had little to do with his father's regime, living in London for a number of years. But when the Arab uprising came to Libya, he allegedly directed attacks against the rebels.
He was captured by the Abu Bakr Al Sadiq militia, but set free under an amnesty deal in 2017.
The researchers found the pages taken down by Facebook often posted exactly the same content at precisely the same time, and often linked to state media from Russia.
But the origins of the pages are unknown. "Given no indication that they were attributable to an outside actor, they provide insight into the strategies that Saif Gaddafi supporters are using, and the narratives they are pushing," the researchers wrote in a blog on the topic.
The posts "worked to create the impression that Saif Gaddafi has broad popular support among Libyans", they added.
This includes a number of the pages sharing a report by ex-state news agency Jana News describing a poll purporting to show that if elections were to be held tomorrow, Saif Gaddafi would win. The Stanford team could not find the original polling results and questioned the veracity of the reports.
Jana News said the poll was carried out by the Foundation for National Values Protection, an organisation run by Alexander Malkevich, "who was briefly the editor of USA Really, a propaganda site linked to the Internet Research Agency in 2018 and who is on the US sanctions list for interfering in its 2016 elections," the Stanford blog said.
In another Russian link, the pages were all founded at the beginning of 2019, when a Russian plan to instate Saif Qaddafi to lead Libya was in motion.
Bloomberg reported in March that Saif held a series of meetings after April 2019 with two Russian advisors – Maxim Shugaley, an elections consultant, and his translator, Samir Seifan.
Notes taken from the meetings, confiscated on the pair's arrest in Tripoli on espionage charges, showed Saif was keen to build influence in Libya with a view to running for office.
An aide to Saif told Bloomberg he wanted good relations with western countries, too, but the Russians offered their help first.
The Stanford team also found co-ordinated posts and videos accusing Libya's Government of National Accord of over-reporting coronavirus cases in the country to distract from the current conflict with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on taking down the 18 pages.