Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Dubai model takes on Facebook and Instagram to shut fake profiles in Amr Warda row

Dozens of fake accounts were set up in a hate campaign against Merhan Keller

Merhan Keller, a model, says she was abused online by footballer Amr Warda. Pawan Singh / The National 
Merhan Keller, a model, says she was abused online by footballer Amr Warda. Pawan Singh / The National 

A model at the centre of sexual harassment allegations made against Egyptian footballer Amr Warda has won her battle with Facebook to deactivate more than 75 fake accounts in her name.

Merhan Keller, an Egyptian, said she was hit with a barrage of offensive material online after rejecting the alleged advances of the midfielder during Egypt’s participation in the African Cup of Nations.

The player was ejected from the squad only to be reinstated after winning support from teammates, including star player Mo Salah.

The Pharaohs were knocked out of the tournament on Saturday following a 1-0 defeat to South Africa in Cairo.

Their exit ignited a social media spat, with Ms Keller receiving more messages from online trolls, many claiming she had contributed to the team’s downfall.

Facebook - which owns Instagram - initially deactivated her own accounts on both sites, claiming she violated their terms. She says it then took days to remove the scores of fake profiles fuelling the hatred towards her.

“I sent so many emails to Facebook via the online helpdesk as every day new fake accounts in my name were being created, and my real one had disappeared,” said the 28-year-old, who has more than 250,000 followers on social media.

“Fake profiles were making statements further damaging my reputation so I had to do something.”

Ms Keller claims the social media giant’s actions have been unfair, by closing access to her account and refusing to publicly verify her profile.

She visited Facebook's Dubai office in person with an official from the city's public prosecution office to urge them to cull fake profiles of her, which they did.

“We do not tolerate bullying or harassment on Instagram or Facebook,” a spokesman said.

“We want our platforms to be places where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

“We do permit open and critical discussion of public figures, but will remove credible threats, hate speech and impersonation profiles when we're made aware of them.”

The row has triggered an open debate in Egypt about the harassment of women both in society, and online.

Salah, who is in line for global football accolades after winning the Champions League with Liverpool, spoke out in support of his teammate Warda, who has faced similar claims before, on Twitter to his 9.4 million followers, saying he deserved a second chance.

The fake accounts are making people in Egypt hate me even more by presenting statements from me suggesting I was happy the team was doing so badly

Merhan Keller

That move was criticised by other women who also claimed to be victims of similar behaviour by Warda, 25.

Despite Facebook’s claim to clamp down on the hate speech directed at Ms Keller, she claims new fake profiles in her name are appearing daily.

“The fake accounts are making people in Egypt hate me even more by presenting statements from me suggesting I was happy the team was doing so badly,” she said.

"The issue of sexual harassment of women in Egypt is now being openly discussed, and that is a good thing.

“Especially after the team lost, there are a lot of questions being asked now about why they failed.

“Fans now think the team’s focus was not on the competition and they were distracted.

“Egyptians are passionate people and are blaming the players, so it has reopened the subject.”

Updated: July 8, 2019 12:54 PM

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