Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net Report: Bahrain Harasses Twitter Users with Army of Trolls

2015-10-30 - 10:45 م

Bahraini Mirror (Exclusive): Bahrain scored 72 on a scale of (0 = Best, 100 = Worst), according to Freedom House's annual Freedom on the Net report, which highlighted that an "army of trolls has been active on Twitter since February 2011 to collectively harass and intimidate online activists and spread information that is controversial, offensive, or false in order to distort the image of protesters and spread hate and conflict."

The report tackled the period between June 2014 and May 2015, stating that "news emerged in April 2015 of plans to create a Bahraini national search engine that would allow authorities to easily filter unwanted search results without the need to secure cooperation from U.S.-based companies. The project is reportedly being done in collaboration with Russian experts."

"Well known human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who has faced legal harassment for several years, was arrested twice over the coverage period for Twitter posts critical of the Bahraini security forces, the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, and the alleged torture of detainees at Jaw prison," Freedom House added in its report.

Freedom House further pointed out that several users, including a former member of parliament, were prosecuted for calling for a boycott or exposing unfair practices in the lead up to November 2014 parliamentary elections, adding that "at least 11 users were arrested for posts that were critical of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia after his death in January, including two teenage girls. Four young men were each sentenced to three months in prison for ‘offending in public a foreign country or its president or representative.'"

"At least three popular Twitter users were pressured into deleting their tweets or closing their accounts for posts that were critical of government policy. Around 97,000 tweets were erased from the satirical account @Takrooz after he was arrested, leaving only one tweet in place stating, ‘They tortured me in prison,'" read the report.

The Freedom on the Net report particularly highlighted that "an ‘army of trolls' has been active on Twitter since February 2011, when hundreds of accounts suddenly emerged to collectively harass and intimidate online activists, commentators, and journalists who voiced support for protests and human rights," stressing that "the trolls have also played a vital role in spreading information that is controversial, offensive, or false, in order to distort the image of protesters, spread hate and conflict, or discredit information posted on social networks."

"In August 2013, Bahrain Watch revealed evidence of connections between the Bahraini government and ‘extremist' accounts on Twitter and Facebook that advocated violence against both the government and protesters. It was also revealed that the government impersonates opposition figures on social media in order to send malicious links, such as IP trackers, to anonymous government critics that can be used to identify and prosecute them. In January 2014, the prime minister and the minister of telecommunications held several public meetings with pro-government users to encourage them to ‘defend Bahrain's ruling system.'" the report added.

It further stated that "the state also issues official statements warning against the discussion of certain subjects. Most recently in March 26 2015, the Interior Ministry issued a statement warning it would take steps against anyone expressing opinions ‘against the approach that Bahrain has taken' in supporting and joining the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen."

On the level of censorship, Freedom House said that the Bahraini government continues its efforts "to silence online dissidents by forcing them to close their pages or remove content. Self-censorship is rife, particularly on issues related to the monarchy, religion, and relations with the neighboring countries of the Arabian Peninsula," adding that "other applications are permanently blocked, and specific content on social networks can be inaccessible."

"In November 2013,, a website that broadcasts live religious events and sermons from Shi'a religious centers across Bahrain, was reported blocked prior to religious commemorations surrounding the predominantly Shi'a anniversary of Ashura," the report further stated.

Freedom House also stressed that despite all Bahraini government efforts, the internet is still "the main source of information and news for many Bahrainis, particularly those active on Twitter and Facebook. The number of Bahraini users on Facebook increased to around 540,000 as of May 2014, representing a penetration rate of nearly 39 percent. The #bahrain hashtag remains one the most popular topics on Twitter across the Arab region, with around 710,000 tweets on the English hashtag and 1,000,000 tweets on the Arabic hashtag of Bahrain in March 2014 alone."

Arabic Issue

التعليقات المنشورة لا تعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الموقع

comments powered by Disqus