Eminem once posed the question ‘Guess who’s back?’. The answer was of course, the Real Slim Shady. While it has so far been impossible to determine whether Liliane Khalil was slim or not, she was certainly shady. That’s assuming that she was actually a she. Anyway, it appears that Liliane Khalil is back on Twitter and Linkedin, this time under the guise of @HabibaDalal and Gisele Nasr.
For those who need a recap, Liliane Khalil was exposed last year for being a hoax journalist. She used Twitter, blogs and social media to spread pro-regime propaganda messages, apparently on behalf of Task Consultancy, a Bahrain based company who received government funds to do PR work on their behalf . Task Consultancy have denied these allegations, claiming that they never tendered for any PR, despite the fact that the award appears on the government’s website.
Some of Liliane’s notable claims included interviewing King Hamad, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Dr. al-Baradei and Natan Sharansky. She also claimed to have written several articles for Reuters. When challenged about these things in a phone interview, she either made up elaborate stories, said the interviewees didn’t turn up, or claimed she was drunk. Despite being invited to appear on both Al-Jazeera and France24 she never went ahead with it.
Liliane also operated accounts under other names, such as Gisele Cohen, Victoria Nasr, and Susan Hadad (to name but a mere few). These other accounts, which go back 2 years, don’t solely focus on spreading anti-Iranian propaganda. They are all linked, yet some seem to focus on marketing specific products. Gisele Cohen appears to be in the medical business.
With regards to the ‘new’ accounts Habiba Dalal and Gisele Nasr, the trend seems to remain the same. The Gisele Nasr Linkedin account is a name based on two of Liliane’s previous personas (Victoria Nasr and Gisele Cohen). Despite the name and a new photo, the account appears to be the same as its ‘Gisele Cohen’ predecessor. The email address is the same, as are the educational qualifications. Apart from this new profile ‘makeover’, there doesn’t seem to be too much account activity on the Linkedin side of things. Oddly enough though, the profile picture looks a bit like an older, less photoshopped version of Lia Boustany – Liliane Khalil’s fake sister.
The Habiba Dalal account links to Liliane Khalil’s account on Topsy (or here). Her first tweet was in October 2011, and after changing her bio a few times, it appears she has settled on the following:
I am a journalist following the Iran threat, the Arab Spring and US foreign policy in the Middle East. | New York
As with Liliane Khalil, she tweets and retweets a lot of articles regarding the rising Iranian threat. A number of her tweets concern Bahrain, including high praise for Rob Sobhani’s Huffington Post piece ‘Iran’s Target: Bahrain’. She also retweeted something from another stock-photo-using, suspicious account called @Chelseadraws. This tweet concerned the links between Hezbollah and al-Wefaq, a connection many al-Watan reading hardliners continue to hammer home.
For a new account that adds no value to any discussion, Habiba Dalal’s has a surprising number of followers. About 1,128. Whether these were bought or remain from Liliane’s old account is hard to determine, though in terms of ‘following’, some of the usual suspects are there, including the anonymous author and former undercover CIA-Revolutionary Guard double agent Reza Kahlili. Indeed, Liliane Khalil’s expose on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ links with Iran was posted on Reza Kahlili’s website. Incidentally, the article is still there despite the fact Liliane Khalil has zero credibility.
Habiba/Liliane is also followed by Reem Zain and Evie Varthi. Evie Varthi wrote for BahranViews, a pro-regime blog that is believed to be run by the aforementioned, alleged former employer of Liliane, Task Consultancy. Reem Zain is the managing director of Task Consultancy, and was Liliane’s publicist in the days following her expose.
Liliane’s determination to keep tweeting about Iran is impressive. However, there are a large number of anonymous account such as hers, each tweeting vitriol against Iran, al-wefaq and hezbollah. While there are real people who genuinely believe in these links, it’s hard to believe that many of these accounts are not just sock puppets set up by PR companies to distort the online public sphere with propaganda. In an investigation published by the Independent, London based PR firm BGR Gabara claimed they had planned to orchestrate an “online social media campaign” by Kazakh children to protest against the fact Sting cancelled his gig there. Interestingly, the Independent reported that BGR Gabara also work for the Bahrain government. That’s another one to add to the growing list of PR companies employed by the country. You’d think all that PR money could be better spent.
While these fake accounts are arguably crude and ineffectual, it is hard to determine their true extent. Many people even question the authenticity of the likes of Reza Kahlili. It’s easy to see why, since he does not ever reveal his true identity. In TV appearances he wears a handkerchief and uses a voice decoder. Establishing someone’s credibility is difficult when you cannot verify their identity, yet establishing someone’s credibility becomes crucial when they make such dramatic claims. I personally learned after the Liliane Khalil expose that it was important to put a name to the story. Obviously I’m not doing what Reza Kahlili does, and trying to claim that Iran has thousands of suitcase nukes, but the principle is still the same. With regards to this anonymity, one of Habiba Dalal’s previous bios reads
I am a journalist following [r]evolutions in societies, governments + citizen journalism. Working anonymously due to the nature of my job.
Well, Habiba Dalal is no longer anonymous, because she’s Liliane Khalil, and Liliane Khalil wasn’t even real. Wait, I guess that makes her anonymous?
I have no love for the Iranian regime, yet I have even less love for companies or institutions manipulating people’s beliefs by distorting the information available in the public sphere. This proliferation of propaganda, in its myriad of forms, attempts to subvert rational debate by appealing to a person’s visceral fears. Subtler accounts might attempt to influence the public sphere by imbuing it with information that may seem credible, but is ultimately a plant (black propaganda). Other potentially concerning aspects of these fake accounts are evident when they are used to attempt to influence political society. For example, a twitition (twitter petition) that went round last year claimed to be a proposal listing the demands of Bahrain’s Youth for the upcoming National Dialogue. Over a thousand people signed it, though who knows what number of them were anonymous sock accounts. The following day the National Unity Gathering ( Bahrain’s new pro-gov leaning political party) used the petition as a basis for determining what youth wanted. I believe this could be termed as a #civilsocietyfail . An absurdly dystopian/1984 type analysis would suggest that such practices might become common in the future. Just imagine if Twitter’s new censorship policy led to a crackdown on all legitimate tweeps, resulting in regime-paid companies dominating cyberspace with newspeak, propaganda, and complete bollocks. Haha, now it’s my turn to be sensationalist!
Moving swiftly on…
Paradoxically, these fake accounts undermine the rhetoric of legitimate loyalists in the online world, as the prevalence of dubious accounts leads people to associate regime supporters with paid PR. It’s hardly surprising though considering the Bahrain government’s unquenchable thirst for Public Relations . Even at this very moment I am being accosted by someone who is almost certainly a black propaganda sock account. A very very unsubtle one at that…
Of course Mohammed Abdul Nabi is not alone. There are plenty of other suspicious and/or anonymous accounts. I’m sure many people would enjoy seeing who is behind @SallyfromSaar , @gloriahere , @ChelseaDraws etc. However, until that glorious day comes, let’s just content ourselves by observing their unscrupulous and incestuous meta-orgie of mutual congratulation and retweeting.
Further Liliane Khalil reading