The authoritarian regimes of the gulf are highly opaque and secretive, but their actions are extremely insidious – they operate in shadows, subverting democratic institutions and spreading disinformation to undermine democracy worldwide. However, there is one way their thoughts leak out – through their Twitter bot networks. These armies of trolls are controlled by high-level advisors of the regimes, and their ramblings can be seen as an unfiltered stream of consciousness of the leadership. In the absence of any other reliable way to study their policies, it is quite possible to find out what they think purely by analysing the narratives they push through these unofficial channels.
Our friend Jamal Khashoggi, before he was murdered, was working with a coalition of activists – including Kawaakibi Foundation – to launch a project to expose the hysterical propaganda of Arab regimes. What he envisioned was a project to translate the video clips, articles and audio posted on official and semi-official media from Arabic to English, highlighting their hypocrisy and delusion, and helping analyse their behaviour and intentions.
After Jamal’s murder, we have taken it upon ourselves to make sure that this important project sees the light. It will impose some transparency on the online space, and may serve to shame them and curb their worst impulses.
This project will consist of two divisions, operating with a lead curator working with a team of researcher, translators, writers and editors, and publishing to a section of the Arab Tyrant Manual website and social media, and soliciting submissions from our Arabic audience too.
The first division will closely monitor official and semi-official gulf media and social media, selecting the most egregious examples of disinformation and propaganda to translate and publish, holding them up for the world (including their own citizens) to laugh at.
The second division will carry out deep research on a large number of accounts associated with these governments and their representatives, in order to understand what lies behind the narratives – what they are thinking on specific current issues, and why. This division will be producing regular reports on a daily or weekly basis, or by topic – “this week in Bahraini Twitter”, or “this is what they’re saying about X big event”. These reports will include tweet samples, quantitative analysis and the opinions of regime-linked influencers, as well as data and network analysis.
The aim of the project is to become the go-to source for understanding what Arab dictators really think, what they want us to think and what they want their own people to think, in real-time, as well as what information and people they want to suppress (such as their narratives around specific human rights activists). We call it the Center for Media and Studies in reference to the organisation of the same name run by Saud al-Qahtani, MBS’ close advisor and troll-master. It is time to take social media back out of their hands.
A Very Special Request
Unlike many of the dictators we expose, we aren’t wading in cash. At the same time, we do not want to take on debt; we do not want to seek the support of institutional funders who want to control our agenda; we do not want to become addicted to grants; and we do not want to have ads or commercial sponsors. You – our audience – are the backbone of our support.
This can only work if you support us. Please click through and join our Patreon, where you can pledge as little as $1 a month towards our budget. And if you’re willing to pledge at least $5 a month or more, we have an exciting list of exclusive, member-only products lined up for you.
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