Do Arab Governments Control Arabic-Language Twitter?

Published November 1st, 2018 - 12:48 GMT
Twitter has been accused lately to cooperate with Arab governments to crackdown on their dissidents and critics. (Shutterstock)
Twitter has been accused lately to cooperate with Arab governments to crackdown on their dissidents and critics. (Shutterstock)

By Randa Darwish

Is the Arabic-speaking Twitter platform being controlled by the Arab governments? This is a question that has been frequently asked among Arab users on the social media platform.

In the wake of latest events taking place in Saudi Arabia with the Jamal Khashoggi killing and the Egyptian crackdown on freedoms on the internet, Arab Twitter users have been seeing a rise in the number of automated accounts flooding social media with hateful comments and threats against specific users who express opposition to governmental or royal figures.

Twitter bots have been the easiest to track in the instance of Saudi Arabia - with automated and human accounts targeting individuals that criticise the Kingdom as well as opposition groups in the humanitarian sector.

Last week, one of the prominent Saudi activists, Manal al-Sharif announced she is quitting Twitter and Facebook as the platforms are becoming more of a government-allied tool to oppress and harass activists and campaigners.

Manal also highlighted the outstanding role played by social media platforms in the Arab Spring and in helping Arab youth demand freedom and equality.

Manal is not the only user being trolled by the Saudi governmental bots. Any account that has been expressing opposition or criticism to Saudi Arabia can facee a toxic response.

In Egypt as well, there has been a rise in the number of accounts that belong to activists or opposition figures being closed by Twitter, claiming they are violating the platform rules.

Beside Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Twitter was also accused of promoting the UAE narratives as part of the fierce information war being waged online between Arab governments and their people.

In response, Twitter also announced to their users that they are expanding features to help combat spam content and suspected bots.

Twitter’s announcement was welcomed cautiously by users who will soon find out if the crackdown on bots and automated accounts will be helpful in combating targted attacks by governments on the platform.

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