The United Arab Emirates' efforts to bolster its reputation ahead of the annual UN climate negotiations it's hosting in December haven't gone particularly well this year. They've been playing the long game, Cartie Werthman uncovered for DeSmog yesterday,as lobbying disclosures document how the head of the UAE's national oil company, Sultan Ahmed "Al Jaber’s ascent to the highest levels of climate diplomacy began 16 years ago, and Edelman, the largest public relations firm in the world, played a crucial role."
This week, we spotted what appears to be another petroganda effort: an unusual post on Reddit's "climate skeptics" page, standing out among the links to dumb memes, decade-old YouTube videos, and denial blog posts. It's a stock image of a tree, half dead and half lush, with the caption: "The UAE is keen to achieve what ensures development and sustainability in the Arab countries and for the benefit of all their peoples through continuous work to achieve climate neutrality."
It got only one upvote, which makes sense, because it's greenwashing the UAE instead of the main purpose of the subreddit: climate denial. So who's this user who apparently thinks the subreddit dedicated to spreading climate "skepticism" would be a good place for a message about the UAE's commitment to climate action?
Well, remember the discovery of that network of fake accounts with AI-generated profile pictures posting praise for the petrostate's climate leadership back in June? Now it appears the UAE's fan club is trying the same thing on a different platform.
Buckle up, because we’re going deep: /u/ShamaAlR0maithi has had an account since September 2020 and has racked up over 40,000 post karma, a tally of the net number of upvotes their posts have received. They're not getting highly upvoted for posts praising the UAE's climate efforts or UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, but instead gaining karma by (re)posting the standard sort of content you'd expect to find on /r/funny or /r/happy or /r/cats, as in the case of one picture supposedly of the user and their cat, which you can also buy from a stock photo website.
Curious, we searched for other posts about Mohammed bin Zayed and the UAE’s oil and energy company head (and COP28 president) Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, and sure enough, there were a bunch of accounts promoting these two influential figures. User /u/karlatomas4 has spent a year posting a mix of non-COP-specific pro-UAE content and random clickbait, whereas /u/janaelfrajni only started posting last month, first with images of nature and then with pro-UAE content to subreddits like /r/UAETeenagers.
There's even a subreddit dedicated to pro-UAE content, /r/UAE_Achievements, which was created in November 2020 and seems to be purely filled with propaganda like this post promoting Masdar, the national renewable energy company. By comparison, the general /r/UAE page appears to remove these types of posts, and is populated by regular users posting normal content (such as questions for one another about living in the UAE).
Interestingly, the account that created the /r/UAE_Achievements subreddit, /u/hesamzy, as well as the most recently added moderator who shares a name with a Dubai Police Colonel and had a pro-UAE greenwashing and wokewashing posting history, have since had their accounts suspended by Reddit.
Of the remaining two moderators, /u/M_Hussein_ doesn't appear to have posted or commented anything, ever (or they've since deleted their content), while the fourth moderator, /u/Gmilazyd, appears to be the only active account of the four and posts a variety of pro-UAE content and normal Reddit fare to mixed results, as content often gets removed from mainstream subreddits by diligent moderators strictly enforcing user-generated rules against spam and the like.
The other posters in /r/UAE_Achievements seem to have a similar pattern of posting a mix of both pro-UAE propaganda consisting of an image and caption and mundane Reddit-bait pictures to maintain a pretense of being a regular user.
In just the span of a few hours yesterday, there were green and woke-washing posts by auto-generated-named users like /u/Mundane_Reveal_6588, /u/MotherFee2562 and /u/These_Wallaby3140 (whose Aug '23-created profile comes complete with a stock photo headshot), as well as more "real" usernames like /u/danamoustafa1, /u/rofidasoltan, /u/nourmohamed25, /u/ALiaabinzaied, /u/RetalAli1, /u/fatemasaleeh, /u/lamiaa_radwan, /u/Hana_fahmy, and /u/banenkhaled, who also commented last week that "The UAE is the world's beacon for reducing carbon emissions. It has always worked through initiatives to promote the environment and climate."
Now it may be that these are all normal, if aggressively patriotic, ADNOC-loving UAE citizens who just so happen to have identical posting patterns, but given that the UAE is making its way through the entire list of state-sponsored propaganda tactics, employing a network of Reddit accounts to promote the country doesn't seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.
In fact, at this point confirmation that it's got a Reddit promotion scheme going would be a Mundane_Reveal_6588.