Propaganda through bots

 02 Feb 2018 - 13:00

The Peninsula

Saudi Arabia has long been accused of using bots to push their propaganda on social media. This was further cemented when BBC in a recent report explained how these bots are clogging up the internet and distorts the information coming out from the country.

Arabic social media and news outlets have been saying from the beginning of the Gulf Crisis that propaganda bots or ‘online flies’, as they are known in the Arab world, are used by the Saudi government to attack Qatar and defame it. The BBC said in its report that these bots blocks critical news about Saudi and doesn’t allow the deteriorating economic and social conditions of its citizens enter mainstream.

The report shows that the people who are in charge of the propaganda bots create fake accounts, but use real pictures and names of well-known Saudi families. They also set-up fake accounts in the name of Qataris, which were called out many times by Twitterati, to confuse naive users.

These accounts create hashtags, which the report described as ‘hashtag poisoning’, and use the bots to generate thousands of tweets to make it trend in Saudi and neigbhouring countries. This was used to prop up Saudi propaganda and attack Qatar with malicious content. As these hashtags are tweeted thousands of times it trends in the region and the ‘flies’ spread their poison all around.  

“These accounts appear as people, but actually it is a computer program that exploits social media and looks like a real person to spread propaganda,” Dr Marc Own Jones, who studies Saudi accounts, said.

”These bots tweet more than 100,000 tweets a day and this it means half the Twitter users in Saudi are software programs,” Dr Jones added.

“‘Hashtag poisoning’  is basically using a hashtag and dominating it, squeezing out any real genuine critical information and this makes Twitter useless to get real information,” he added.

A recent article by New York Times has exposed companies who set up fake Twitter accounts and sell followers to celebrities. This has prompted Twitter to announce that they will be working hard to clean up their social media platform. A few weeks back another social media giant, Facebook, had de-clared war on fake news. It is easy said than done, as it is not only people with commercial interest who are behind these malicious acts, but also regimes with ulterior motive to further their propaganda.

One has to be very careful while treading the world of social media as there are many flies flying around with full of poison.