Flood of misinformation on the 3rd anniversary of the crisis in the Gulf

Flot de désinformation au 3e anniversaire de la crise du Golfe

A tweet claiming to show the beginning of a coup in Qatar, with a video trembling and the crackle of weapons fire, and quickly spread after it was put online at the beginning of may.

This tweet was posted on an account without subscribers, and with a portrait of king Salman of saudi Arabia in profile picture.

The video has been viewed nearly 300,000 times since 4 may, suggesting, according to experts, it has been retweetée by false accounts, with the approach of the 3rd anniversary, Friday, the announcement by saudi Arabia and four of its arab allies, the severing of ties with Qatar.

The dispute had erupted after a hacking apparent from the web site of the official news agency of Qatar QNA in may 2017.

QNA had broadcast statements attributed to the emir of Qatar, sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, supporting islamist groups and criticizing the american president Donald Trump. Doha was quick to deny, but such statements, picked up by the media in the Gulf, had triggered the attacks against Qatar.

The hashtag “cut ties with Qatar” is then spread on Twitter.

On June 5, 2017, saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the united arab Emirates and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing him of being too close to Iran, a rival regional Ryad, and support of the radical islamists, then, have imposed an arms embargo by land, sea and air.

Impasse

Despite denials from Qatar and signs of improved relations, reconciliation efforts are now in a stalemate.

In recent weeks, Twitter accounts pro-saudis have spread rumors about unrest in Qatar, according to a study by the AFP hundreds of tweets.

These campaigns have been launched from saudi Arabia, according to experts, some of which diverge on the level of involvement of senior saudi officials.

Based in Doha, the academic Marc Owen Jones, who is studying the misinformation anti-Qatar, accusing Riyadh.

“Anyone who spreads this kind of new violated technically the saudi law according to which it is illegal to spread rumors (…) to escape the law, he must have the tacit approval of the regime,” he told AFP.

The officials in Riyadh have not commented on the rumors of a coup d’état.

According to observers of saudi arabia, the kingdom itself is a victim of misinformation from Qatar and nato countries, Turkey and Iran.

The united arab Emirates, key ally of Riyadh, have also been the target of a disinformation campaign, one referring to the assassination of the minister of foreign Affairs Abu Dhabi, Abdallah ben Zayed. The emirate had charged the responsibility of this rumor in Qatar.

The qatari channel ‘ Al Jazeera, has been accused several times of having disseminated propaganda anti-Ryad to destabilize saudi Arabia, but Doha refused to close the chain.

The announcement in early may of a coup in Qatar has been followed by tweets and information sources, pro-saudi, claiming that dissidents had challenged openly the regime in Doha. This has been proven wrong.

“The rumors on social networks give the illusion that it comes to campaigns mounted all parts and then taken up by the traditional media “, said the expert.

“Argument”

For Mr. Jones, of the university of Hamad bin Khalifa, the publication of statements attributed to the emir of Qatar ” has given weight to the argument for triggering the crisis “.

But some experts doubt the level of involvement of saudi Arabia where the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman seems to be busy to consolidate his power.

“I conclude that someone close to Mohammed ben Salman (…) said: “what should I do today? I know: I am in Qatar+”, said Michael Stephens, an associate member of the reflection group of the Royal United Services Institute.

David Patrikarakos, an expert of social networks in situations of conflict, saudi Arabia “is in the process of becoming a major player in the disinformation”.

“Given their differences, it is not surprising to see them step up the disinformation campaign against Qatar”, he said about the Saudis.

The authorities of Qatar remains a conservative, not calling yet publicly to an action of the giants of the social networks against the alleged perpetrators of these campaigns.

“The first campaign of misinformation in 2017, was unprecedented and nobody expected such a co-ordinated campaign”, told AFP an official of the office of communication of the government of Qatar. “But now, in Qatar and at the international level, people no longer take this kind of disinformation campaign seriously.”

Such campaigns would “damage the reputations of governments” who orchestrate, he emphasized, without naming any government.

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