Twitter Bots, Fake Accounts Are Trying To Hush Up News From Yemen

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A Yemen-focused journalist blocked about 9,000 Twitter bots in just a few hours. This issue has been going on since May — and increasing.

 

 

Twitter bots and fake accounts by the thousands are preventing information about the Yemen crisis from being known to the world, according to activists and journalists.

Iona Craig, an independent journalist focusing on Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, alleged she had to block 9,000 bots on Twitter in just a space of a few hours.

That’s a problem because a huge number of Twitter bots and fake accounts can damage an account’s credibility and even force Twitter to block the user, in some extreme cases.

Craig has condemned the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that is a result of Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the country.

The Irish-British reporter said the targeting of Yemen-focused Twitterati started in May but now has reached “ridiculous proportions.” She did not suggest who was behind the cyberattacks, however, operatives in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are accused of creating the fake accounts.

 

 

 

And she is not the only one facing this problem.

Other journalists, activists and academics reporting about the war-torn Middle Eastern country have complained of abnormally high numbers of fake accounts in recent months.

In July, Sana’a-based political analyst and Craig’s friend, Hisham al-Omeisy tweeted fake bots were following the accounts of several nonprofit workers in Yemen.

 

Al-Omeisy said he suspected something fishy was going on after he discovered a spike in his Twitter followers who had Arabic handles, while he tweets in English.

The humanitarian, who has a huge fan following on Twitter and is described as the “most famous Yemeni in the Western world,” was reportedly kidnapped by Houthi rebels in August, allegedly over his damning interviews in western media about the Yemen crisis.

Rasha Jarhum, founder of “Peace Track Initiative” that reports humanitarian situation in Yemen, was also targeted.

 

In July, Marc Owen Jones, a lecturer at Exeter University, identified a separate but similar issue on social media. He stated on his blog that automated bots had been programmed to use the Yemen hashtag to promote the notion of Iranian influence in the country, a recurrent theme in the Arabian Peninsula politics.

He speculated the anti-Iranian messages may be linked to Saudi24, a channel linked to “state rhetoric.”

 

Recently, he also found how Saudi fake accounts boosted a pro-Saudi tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump.

 

Jones found thousands of retweets came from accounts that were created on the same day and had almost identical content. The accounts were tracked to the capital city of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh.

There have been accusations that Saudi-linked fake accounts have been involved in burying criticism of the country’s foreign policy and promoting sectarianism. At this time, however, there is little concrete proof that Saudi Arabia or its allies are behind the Twitter fake accounts. But it’s clear that whoever it is, wants to silence the news about the Yemeni suffering.

Banner/Thumbnail: REUTERS, Khaled Abdullah

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