A Middle East propaganda network that duped conservative media went dark on Tuesday after The Daily Beast revealed that fake personas had been used to plant more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications.
Sixteen Twitter accounts tied to the network, all bearing fake identities spreading propaganda, were suspended Monday after The Daily Beast sent Twitter the results of its extensive investigation. Twitter said the accounts were suspended for violating their platform manipulation policy.
The publications duped by the fake writers were largely conservative outlets including Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and American Thinker. The pieces often espoused pro-United Arab Emirates beliefs and were tough on Iran, Turkey, and Qatar. The phony authors behind the pieces used fake credentials to give themselves more credibility, and propped up the articles that other fake personas had written on their own fake accounts.
After The Daily Beast exposed the network, the Washington Examiner removed its article written by one of the fake personas, named “Raphael Badani,” leaving only an editor’s note: “This op-ed has been removed after an investigation into its provenance and authorship.”
A LinkedIn profile for “Raphael Badani” was also deleted.
Spiked, a British libertarian site, added a note atop both its articles by another fake persona, saying the outlet “takes seriously any claim of questionable authorship.”
Human Events, meanwhile, affixed an editor’s note atop their article written by a fake persona, but defended its publication regardless, writing: “We have reviewed the substance of this piece, and have not found any factual errors—and we still agree with the thesis of the piece. As such, we are keeping the piece up, and adopting its arguments as a publication.”
The National Interest, The Post Millennial, Jewish News Syndicate, and The Jerusalem Post all deleted their articles without any statement. Newsmax, too, deleted all articles by “Badani” and scrubbed his profile page listing him as an “insider”—all without any editor’s notes.
Additionally, The Arab Eye and Persia Now—the two fake news websites used to bolster the phony personas’ credentials—deleted their websites entirely without any explanation.