Baqer Darwish: Electronic Flies in Bahrain

Baqer Darwish - 2018-07-08 - 12:00 am

The Bahraini government has been able to develop some of the repression tools to support the security system; the typical image is no longer sufficient for the masked security officer who leads a group of security members during night raids or what Mohamed Hassanein Heikal called the #dark_bats. At least, this is a normal consequence of the rapid descend towards the destruction of all images of the civil state by strengthening the structure of the police state, which transforms the executive, legislative, judicial and media powers into multifaceted informers and tools of repression.

Meanwhile, sectarian instigation that the administration of Bahrain Television has worked on succeeded in preparing the conditions for programming hate speech and incitement in the official press and on social media sites locally. This instigation was criticized later on by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), and it called it "provocative coverage." At the same time, some countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, started creating electronic armies and developing their roles.

Observers may believe that the influence of Saudi Arabia and the UAE is limited to the effects of the existence of the Peninsula Shield Force in Bahrain since 2011; however, this is not true. Besides the security, diplomatic and political support, there is the electronic support, which is provided through electronic flies.

Electronic flies: is a modern term in the digital media world. It means the fake accounts on social networking sites directed by specialized programmers to carry out systematic media campaigns against individuals, entities or countries.

The monitoring records of hate speech at the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights show the following: Hundreds of electronic accounts actively publish hate or provocative materials monthly in Bahrain. In addition, there are 800-1000 fake accounts that are created during important local events, such as the attack on Duraz area last year, and then they disappear. Those accounts publish tweets (for multiple-purposes), spread rumors, activate re-tweets and likes, and promote created hashtags to make them trending, as well as many other actions, including threatening activists. Obviously, there are at least 100 people working for the security media to manage these electronic campaigns.

However, the security authorities are not limited to real or fake electronic accounts; they also use a number of media, security or political personalities to contribute to the operation of the electronic flies, which is conducted in a programmed manner. Those personalities include: the head of Public Security, Tariq al-Hassan; Saeed al-Hamad; Ministry of Information Affairs' adviser, Sawsan Al-Shaer; Editor-in-Chief of al-Ayam newspaper, Najeeb al-Hamer; Assistant Undersecretary for Information and Follow-up at the Prime Minister's Court, Ibrahim Al-Dosari (he shut down his account after a problem occurred with an account called "Na'eb Ta'eb" (repentant MP); former MP Mohammed Khaled; Editor-in-Chief of Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper, Anwar Abdulrahman; Faisal al-Sheikh; Mona Motawa; Editor-in-Chief of al-Watan newspaper, Youssef al-Binkhalil; and Editor-in-Chief of al-Bilad newspaper.

Beyond the domestic e-flies, and in order to analyze the cooperation between the three electronic armies of Bahrain, UAE and Saudi Arabia, we can review this example: (Arabic) hashtag #(Bahrain oil pipelines set on fire) has been extensively activated from Saudi Arabia after the first tweet was posted by @SaudiNews50, which is followed by more than 10 million followers and reflects the Saudi official policy, at 12:00 pm on 11/10/2017.

Afterwards, 1223 tweets were monitored and analyzed, and the following was noted: an increase in the percentage of hate materials in the tweets that included this hashtag #(Bahrain oil pipelines set on fire). The percentage of Saudi users who posted this hashtag in the first period was 66%. Then, between the 10th and 30th of November 2017, this hashtag along with other hashtags relating to the subject were posted by the following percentages: KSA: 33%, Bahrain: 33%, UAE: 33%.

Thus, those who follow the incitement campaigns on social networking sites note that the authorities are systematically engaged in campaigns of incitement and hatred, and they besiege the narrow margin of expression on social media websites within carefully defined media policies, thus making real and virtual protest spaces a scene of conflict.

*Head of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights


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