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Anti-Shia Hate Speech Continues, Automated Bot Accounts on Twitter Sent over 16,000 Tweets in 8 Days

2016-07-30 - 2:51 am

Bahrain Mirror: Researcher and blogger Marc Owen Jones investigated whether Twitter bots on Yemen and Bahrain hashtags are linked to news broadcaster Saudi 24.

In a detailed blog post published on WordPress, Owen Jones said that over the past few weeks, investigations published on this blog have revealed that "thousands of apparently automated bot accounts on Twitter have been polluting the Bahrain hashtag with sectarian Tweets. On some days, these sectarian bots accounted for over 50% of the Tweets on the Bahrain hashtag."

"Despite Twitter suspending upward of 1800 accounts, the bots still exist," he added, noting that in his latest calculations "approximately 16279 Tweets out of 51194 downloaded from the API between 3 - 11 July 2016 were automated."

Owen Jones further stressed that "sure enough, the same bots on the #Bahrain hashtag are using the Yemen hashtag to promote the idea of Iranian influence in Yemen, a common trope in Gulf politics."

"The accounts are indeed the same, and some have changed from Tweeting about Bahrain to tweeting about Yemen. Many still continue to tweet on the #Bahrain hashtag," he said, listing the most common Tweets on the Yemen hashtag;

العوين:مجئ الخوميني هو بداية الشر و اشعال الحروب في المنطقة https://t.co/wkYWbGT3eG ... #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #ايران #Iran #حزب_الله #yemen #Iraq

(translation: The appearance of Khomeini was the beginning of evil and the spread of wars in the region #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim, #Hezbollah, #Yemen, #Iraq, #Iran

توجيهات خادم الحرمين بايصال رسالة المملكة للعالم كله ومنها برنامج الإمامة في الخارج https://t.co/QZif2VH3PP ... #ايران #Iran #حزب_الله #yemen  (The custodian of the holy mosques sends a message to the whole world....)

"What is interesting about virtually all the videos analysed on the #Bahrain and Yemen hashtag is that they contain links almost exclusively to the YouTube channel Saudi 24," the Bahrain/Gulf political analyst highlighted, noting that Saudi 24 is a satellite channel that he's still trying to find more information on. Their Twitter account was set up in July 2012, before the automated Twitter activated seemed to begin. It has a live link and website. They joined YouTube in January 2015, after many of the bot account had been created.

"Their rhetoric seems loosely aligned with state rhetoric. They are anti Islamic State, but antagonistic towards Iran, and sectarian towards the Shia. At the moment the link is speculative, but it does seem unusual that the bots should almost exclusively choose news clips from Saudi 24, when there are plenty to choose from that broadcast a particularly anti-Shia, anti-Iran, sectarian agenda," he explained.

Sectarian Bots Flooding Twitter with Anti-Shia Hate Speech

In a previous blog post, the Bahrain Watch member pointed out that "new sectarian bots were still flooding Twitter with anti-Shia hate speech." On June 22nd, Twitter banned multiple accounts after confirming bot-like activity. These apparently automated accounts were sending thousands of sectarian Tweets per day on the #Bahrain hashtag.

"However, I have been monitoring the hashtag regularly, and it has yet to show diminished activity. On 23rd June, 51% of the Tweets on the #Bahrain hashtag appeared to emanate from sectarian bot accounts. Indeed, it appears that the majority of the accounts I examined or reported have not been suspended, despite the investigations revealing behaviour that appeared to reflect high levels of automation," revealed Owen Jones.

"In fact, on 23rd June, more accounts were actually created. At the moment, sectarian tweets still account for 50% of all tweets on the #Bahrain hashtag," he added.

According to his examination on 26, 6, 2016, he listed the following results:

Total number of Tweets extracted between 4.45.12 and 23.54.56 on 26th June 2016: 10923

Total number of Tweets suspected to be ‘fake': 5456

Total number of suspected fake accounts: 1754

Percentage of Tweets on Bahrain hashtag suspected to be fake on 26th June 2016 = 50%

Tweets Contain Derogatory, Sectarian Terms

Owen Jones further stated that, as usual, there were a cycle of a certain number of Tweets broadcast at regular intervals by accounts displaying the same qualities. In his examination of 5456 Tweets, only 12 unique, yet oft repeated Tweets came up, all of which contained derogatory and sectarian terms.

"Most contained the term Safavid, while some contained the term Majusi. The term Shia was repeatedly used, and in close proximity to sectarian terms or terms denoting violence, such as terrorist. The below table is a breakdown of the approximately 5456 fake tweets, all of which were not actual retweets, but copy and pasted tweets from individual accounts. (Number of Tweets is approximate in below):


اعتداءات الإرهابي الهالك نمر النمربدعم وتوجيه من النظام الصفوي الفارسي الإيراني https://t.co/22eXRtES4G ... #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد

Assaults by the deceased terrorist Nimr Al Nimr with the support and direction of the Safavid Persian Iranian regime #leader #faqih


الإرهابيين الصفويين https://t.co/2Lilk4cgVB ... #آية_الله_قاسم #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد

Safavid Terrorists. #Ayatollah_Isa_Qasim #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim #Withdrawal_of_nationality_ofIsa_Qasim #Bahrain #Faqih #Leader


الارهاب الصفوي المجوسي ضد بلاد الحرمينhttps://t.co/0Ene5wvu0W ... #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد #آية_الله_قاسم

Safavid Majusi Terrorist against the country of the  Holy Mosques #Withdrawal_of_nationality_ofIsa_Qasim #Bahrain #Faqih #Leader #Bahrain #Isa_Qasim


الشيخ الشيعي السعودي البلادي يكشف حقيقة #ايران الصفوية ضد المملكة https://t.co/4bRTkx036U ... #اسقاط_جنسيه_عيسي_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain

Saudi Shia Shaykh reveals truth about Safavid Iran against the Kingdom #Withdrawal_of_nationality_ofIsa_Qasim #Bahrain #Bahrain


الفرس والمجوس ...حقد على العربhttps://t.co/7l9MAOhJLE ... #آية_الله_قاسم #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه

Persians and the Majus hate the Arabs #Ayatollah_Qasim #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim #Withdrawal_nationality_isa_qasim #Bahrain #Faqih


تقرير الاعلام الصفوي الكذب وتزييف الحقائقhttps://t.co/76axOKnfAq ''' #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد #آية_الله_قاسم

Media report of Safavid lies and distorted facts #Withdrawal_nationality_isa_qasim #Bahrain #Faqih #Leader #Ayatollah_Qasim


تواصل .. لقطات روحانية من الحرمينhttps://t.co/61UZpPNwxD ... #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد #آية_الله_قاسم #الدراز #البحرين


تواصل.. إسقاط الجنسية البحرينية عن الشيعي الصفوي عيسي قاسمhttps://t.co/2sD5SOJRIf ... #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد

Removal of Bahraini nationality from Shia Safavid Isa Qasim #withdrawal_of_nationality_of_Isa_Qasim #Bahrain #Faqih #Leader


داعش وإيران والخطاب الموحدhttps://t.co/emLlqMUO5f ... #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد #آية_الله_قاسم #الدراز #البحرين #اغلاق_جمعية_الوفاق

Da'esh and Iran and their unified discourse #Faqih #Leader #Ayatollah_Qasim #Duraz #Bahrain #closing_of_AlWefaq


سوسن الشاعر:البحرين لا تعبأ بتهديدات قاسم سليمانى ولا غيرهhttps://t.co/Jf6wGdNQH9 ... #اسقاط_جنسيه_عيسي_قاسم #آية_الله_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain

Sowsan Sha'ir*: Bahrain will not listen to the threats of Qasim Suleimani**, or others like him.

*Sowsan Sha'ir is a pro-status quo Bahriani Columnist


فيديو الإرهابيين الصفويين https://t.co/03CQrzHz5z ... #آية_الله_قاسم #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain #الفقيه #القائد #آية_الله_قاسم #الدرا

Video of Safavid terrorists #Ayatollah_Qasim #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim #Bahrain #Faqih #Leader #Ayatollah_Qasim #Dura


فيديو:الإرهاب الإيراني الصفوي بمكة المكرمةhttps://t.co/DdP1g3l9Lr ... #آية_الله_قاسم #الشيخ_عيسي_قاسم #سحب_جنسية_عيسى_قاسم #البحرين #Bahrain

Video: Irani Safavid Terrorists in Holy Mecca #Ayatollah_Qasim #Shaykh_Isa_Qasim #Withdrawal_nationality_Isa_Qasim



Following this, he combined data from 22nd, 26th, and 27th June to get an estimate of how many unique bots there were. This would allow him to get a better sense of the number of bots out there. After he compiled all the suspicious accounts, he performed a remove duplication report in  Google Sheets, resulting in about 3108 active accounts (approx), all of which  fit the profile of sectarian bot accounts.

"The accounts repeating the same Tweets were all created on the 23rd June. All Tweets were from TweetDeck. All accounts had a similar number of tweets and followers (Usually about 300 Tweets; follower numbers in the fifties; and following numbers around 11-15). All accounts are tweeting the same, copy and pasted tweets, most of which were mentioned in the first table in this post."

It is noteworthy that "all accounts had the same input location and format, which was ‘Saudi +((city name))."

Playing on Arab Gulf Fears of " Vilayat e-Faqih "

Owen Jones mentioned that the accounts used lots of sectarian terminology. In what is becoming a tradition, the dominant words included ‘Safavid', ‘Shia', ‘Iran/Irani', ‘Faqih', ‘Hezbollah', ‘Al-Majusi', ‘Terrorist'. As mentioned before, many of these words are derogatory terms used to refer to Shia. Terms such as Faqih too are often used, playing on Arab fears that the Shia in the Gulf are attempting to set up an Iranian-style theocracy based on Vilayat e-faqih (guardianship of the jurist).

Difficulty in Tackling Automated Accounts

Half of the tweets on the Bahrain hashtag appear to be hate speech generated by sectarian bots. Despite reporting this to Twitter and Twitter taking action the figure has not changed. Despite Twitter's suspension of accounts, new ones are still being created, raising question of how difficult it is to tackle them.

"Clearly the problem of sectarian bots has not gone away, and will not go away anytime soon. I do not know what information Twitter have on their side to be able to determine unusual activity coming from specific email domains, or servers located in specific places for example. Unfortunately for Twitter, tales of thousands of bot accounts spewing hatred across the internet does not fit into their brand as a progressive, democracy-encouraging social media platform," concluded Owen Jones.

"I certainly would suggest that these bots be taken more seriously in the fight against hate speech. Given the scale, it is very hard to imagine that this is the work of a small group of individuals. Instead it implies a large-scale operation undertaken with assistance of technical specialists, and possibly reputation management/PR companies," he stressed.

Arabic Version


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