Academic proves Tunisia-related hashtag is led by Saudi and UAE influencers

M. O. Jones, an academic, has analyzed the UAE, Saudi-launched hashtag to defame the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, proving that the hashtag was fake and tendentious.

Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, concluded that the hashtag was mostly led by Saudi and UAE influencers, promoted by people in the Saudi, Egypt and UAE, and containing manipulation through sockpuppet activity.

Dr. Jones introduces his analysis in a number of threads he published on his Twitter account, as follows:

This is a thread on Twitter manipulation around #Tunisia, where the current President is accused of instigating a coup. One Arabic trend translates as “Tunisians revolt against the Brotherhood”. I analyzed around 12000 tweets from 6800 unique accounts.

The trend is interesting primarily because (regardless of what one thinks of #Tunisian politics or indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood), the Muslim Brotherhood has been the bogeyman for the UAE, Egypt and Saudi, and invoked to justify authoritarian and unconstitutional measures.

Firstly, who is tweeting on the hashtag? Well network analysis shows it is mostly Emirate and Saudi influencers.  The most retweeted and influential accounts are monther72, faljubairi and s_hm2030  and emarati_shield. See below for some screenshots:

Here  you can see that those accounts form the most influential nodes within the hashtag:

In addition to that, a corpus analysis of the locations indicate most of those tweeting or retweeting on the hashtag report their locations as in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or the United Arab Emirates:

Now the big question of course. How much manipulation is there and is it effective? The short answer is yes, absolutely! The seventh most influential account (out of 6800) is @7__e7

  – someone going by the name Fairuz. As you can see, their account seems quite spammy:

Firstly, Fairuz’s tweets on the hashtag actually included unrelated humorous videos of someone, erm, falling out of a car. However they get a lot of retweets and likes – hundreds actually. So who is retweeting & liking them? Let’s have a closer look:

Firstly, the network graph is odd. On the right are the main cluster of Saudi/UAE influencers using the hashtag. The blue constellation on the left shows Fairuz and over 200 accounts retweeting her. The fact they are disconnected suggests inorganic behavior, but there is more:

Then, if we color the interactions (edges/lines) by what application the accounts are using, we see another anomaly. Almost all of the 214 accounts use Twitter Web App, when only 8% of all accounts out of 6800 use Twitter Web App. There’s more….


The below GIF shows how the network around Fairuz tweets at speed (high velocity). Look at the yellow cluster at the bottom. It goes from the initial tweet by fairuz to over 200 retweets within a five minute window. This is  indicative of manipulation:

A closer look at the retweeting accounts also is amusing. Meet Erichamel Bonilla (she’s fourteen and happy! – and lives in the Philippines). Also Emma Roberts, a big Smurfs fan who thinks “Smurfs are so sweet”. I bet she really hates the Brotherhood!

So to sum up. The trend “Tunisians revolts against the Muslim Brotherhood” is propaganda that is:

1) Mostly led by Saudi and UAE influencers

2) Mostly promoted by people in the Saudi, Egypt and UAE

3) Contains manipulation through sockpuppet activity

Ok I’m done for now. I may add more later. Remember, this isn’t a comment really on Tunisian politics, more as it is a comment on how Twitter is used by actors within the region to assert their own version of reality through established propaganda tropes.