5,000 fake accounts drowned out anti-normalization hashtag during Biden’s Saudi trip – Middle East Monitor

Around 5,000 fake Twitter accounts are said to have been used to drown out an Arabic hashtag designed to express discontent against normalization with Israel during US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East earlier this month.

Biden’s visit generated a lot of discussion over wheater Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Israel. No such deal took place although Riyadh opened its airspace to Israeli flights, which many saw as an indication that the kingdom is willing to normalize ties with the Apartheid State at the right price.

While Biden, who is desperate to make himself look good on the international stage, described the Saudi gesture as a historic move, there were heated debates on social media on the issue of normalisation.

The Arab population, when asked, has consistently rejected normalization with Israel until the Apartheid State ends its occupation. Survey after survey have shown that the region’s dictators and autocrats do not enjoy the support of their population, which further undermines their legitimacy. Israel’s maintenance as a racist Apartheid State, many argue, rests on the preservation of the region’s autocracy.

Arab dictators nevertheless recognize the fact that public approval makes governing easier which is why in recent years they have poured resources into shaping public opinion on social media. Using fake accounts and bots, Saudi Arabia for example has been one of the most aggressive in this regard.

READ: What does the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ actually mean?

In 2019, weeks after US authorities brought a spying case against three Saudi nationals for digging up dissidents’ personal data at Twitter, the company suspended 94,000 accounts that appear to be linked “to a significant state-backed information operation” originating in Saudi Arabia.

A similar operation appears to have been underway during Biden’s visit to suppress anti-normalization views expressed on social media. In an analysis of around 40,000 tweets from 12-22 July, Professor Marc Owen Jones, found that the Arabic hashtag against normalization “millions_against_normalisation” was trending at the time. A rival hashtag “million_”, also began trending soon after to “sabotage” the anti-normalization hashtag.

Jones, who is assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Doha’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University, shared screenshots of his analysis tracing the origin and time of the pro-normalization hashtag.

Jones’ research indicates that the pro-normalization accounts “engaged in suspicious activity are also almost exclusively using the same app to tweet (Twitter Web App)”.

Describing the suspicious tweets, Jones said that the “General opinion is that these accounts spring into action to try and demote ‘controversial’ hashtags.” He concluded that around 5,000 fake accounts sprang into action to drown out the Arabic hashtag designed to express discontent against normalization with Israel using a technique called hashtag “chopping” or “cropping.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.