Saudi Arabia's Twitter bot army fails to hijack Qatar emir's UK visit

Saudi Arabia's Twitter bot army fails to hijack Qatar emir's UK visit
Saudi Arabia appeared to have mobilised its army of Twitter bots on Monday, during a visit by the Qatar emir to the UK. But things didn't quite go to plan...
3 min read
23 Jul, 2018
An anti-Qatar hashtag trended on Monday, but the tactic backfired [Twitter]
Saudi Twitter robots - known as bots - were in overdrive on Monday, in an attempt to derail a visit by Qatar Emir Tamim al-Thani to the UK.

Thousands of tweets were sent out using the  #OpposeQatarVisit hastag in an attempt to damage the reputation of Qatar during the emir's visit. 

An analysis by The New Arab shows that a large number of the profiles using the hashtag were likely bots, designed to spread fake news about Qatar and build traffic and visibility for the hashtag.

Many of the Twitter profiles used exactly the same text and images when posting, suggesting that they were probably automated accounts controlled by algorithms.

The social media campaign comes amid the continuing year-long blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, following the hacking of Qatar News Agency's website in June 2017.

Hackers had posted a fake story on the agency's site with fabricated quotes, attributed to the emir, praising Iran, Israel and Hizballah.

US intelligence sources later told The Washington Post that the UAE was probably behind the hacking, which sparked the most serious diplomatic crisis in the Gulf for years.

After the blockade on Qatar failed to gain momentum, the UAE and Saudi Arabia used government-linked newspapers and social media to try and link Qatar to Iran and extremist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Twitter has been awash with anti-Doha tweets ever since, although the overwhelming majority appear to have been posted by bots.

When the hashtag #OpposeQatarVisit began trending on Monday, analysis of the tweets showed they had been posted by an anti-Qatar "bot army".

According to, 40 percent of tweets using the #OpposeQatarVisit hashtag originated in Saudi Arabia with 18 percent seemingly from France.

The profiles we checked from France all carried identical profile summaries - just three images of French tricolour flags - and all were created in May 2018. They all contained near-identical content, with key words, phrases and images common to all.

Many of the "French" profiles last tweeted on 13 and 14 July using the #DiplomaticGardenParty2018UAE hashtag, to coincide with France's celebration of Bastille Day.

It also marked the second anniversary of the 2016 Nice terror attack by an Islamic State group-linked militant, which left 86 people dead.

France and the UAE have built close ties in recent years, with Abu Dhabi among the biggest buyers of French arms.

The most popular human-controlled account using the hashtag belongs to Khalid al-Hail, an "exiled" Qatari businessman and little-known critic of the emir.

The UK-based Hail organised a Qatari "opposition" conference in London last September, when speakers called for a "bloodless coup" in Doha. 

But despite the Twitter bot army being mobilised in full force, there appeared to be a few glitches in the system as profiles tweeted out (identical) anti-Saudi messages, seemingly by accident.

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