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The New Arab

Saudi Arabia deployed bot army against critics, including Khashoggi

Twitter was used to target Saudi critics [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 October, 2018

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Saudi Arabia used an online army to target critics of the kingdom following its announcement of the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia deployed an online army to harass critics of the kingdom's regime, including journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to media reports.

Riyadh used a "troll farm" in Riyadh to target dissidents opposed to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the online campaign, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Khashoggi went missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, with media reports suggesting the journalist was murdered.

The Saudi journalist's death was acknowledged on Saturday morning, after two weeks of insisting that he left the consulate alive.

Riyadh's account of the 59-year-old's death - that he was involved in a brawl with 15 staff - was widely derided with many taking to Twitter to voice their disgust at Saudi Arabia's account.

The New York Times claimed that it was suspected Saudi Arabia embedded a spy in Twitter to monitor accounts that are critical of Riyadh.

Trolls in Riyadh then targeted the critics in a campaign of harassment that lasted several hours.

"The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online," one critic of the Saudi regime said.

Earlier this week, Twitter suspended a number of accounts that were said to be operated by a Saudi bot as part of a disinformation campaign.

Khashoggi was among the dissidents who were targeted by the campaign that was said to been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to muzzle critics.

Saud al-Qahtani, bin Salman's chief adviser, was sacked following the announcement of Khashoggi's death, when Saudi Arabia attempted to hint at a cover up by senior figures - but not the crown prince.

He was said to be the architect behind the online campaign that began with young men trawling through Twitter for critics for the kingdom.

Directors of the troll farm then turned to social media specialists with lists of critics to target. Memes were also sent for the trolls to use in their campaign against dissidents.

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised for its suspected involvement in the death of Khashoggi and its response to an inquiry.



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