How social media is destabilising the Middle East
Abusing the power that social media can deliver has been a popular topic in recent times. From election’s to referendum’s, it’s alleged illicit use has been implicated in the outcome of some of the world’s most surprising results, garnering a whole host of international investigations aiming to substantiate many wildly aimed accusations.
Last year we were witness to the political and economic annexing of a country, as Saudi Arabia levied a charge pushing hefty sanctions on Qatar as a result of accusations purporting to Qatar’s support of terrorist factions in the region. Unsurprisingly these accusations were unilaterally rejected by Qatar, bringing the closure of the board between the countries and the restriction of regional airspace to Qatar’s national carrier.
For now, there has been little change with both the countries standing in stalemate waiting for the other to offer a path forward. Whist this disposition continues, it appears that concerted efforts are being made to promote online discourse for Qatar as support for Saudi Arabia continues to grow.
The BBC has been looking at segments of potentially fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, in a bid to see how these accounts have been used to drive trending discourse and resentment towards online users in Qatar. Many of the accounts investigated show long periods of inactivity, only posting or retweeting content when the subject matter is in detriment to Qatar. Thousands of accounts simply follow one another with just a name and no profile picture. Often these accounts support a controversial topic, helping drive it up the rankings in the region before deleting the support 24 hours later.
Tens of thousands of accounts are being used to help boost the credibility of other sites writing potentially fake content, with Twitter and Facebook inadvertently supporting posts due to the sheer number of retweets and shares.
The same practices are also being committed by accounts in Qatar with around 25% of accounts surveyed by the BBC confirming the same approach. The negative effects of this content cannot be understated, with its spread only furthering the regions disconnect. Despite Twitter deleting more than 70 million fake accounts in 2018 alone, more are springing up fuelling the fire. Until better news practices can be implemented across social media, the online communities across the Middle East will continue to suffer.