Bahrain in 2011, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. J/k, but it’s always fun to use a Star Wars quote. Am I right?Anyway, was going through some old notes and found multiple instances of all the trolling, harassment, or cyberbullying I faced over the past few years. This is very ‘normal’ if you’re critical of the Bahraini goverment, and I thought it would be good to compile some of them into a blog for people to read.
From being threatened with rape, to being impersonated in the letters page of the local paper, I’ve organzed them according to theme and genre, so you don’t have to!
The ‘gay’ insults, including one from someone who is radio DJ on Bahrain National Radio.
— Jzee (@gr8ful2bh) January 7, 2012
— Jamal AlSaie (@JamalAlSaie) February 3, 2013
— Hasan ALDOY (@aldoyh) October 22, 2011
— Mohammed Janahi (@dj_mojay) October 22, 2011
The rape threats (including one against my mum)
— Dr. Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) January 18, 2012
@marcowenjones بسطره ذي آنه.. إش دخّل أمّك في البحرين..
— Ahmed Abdullatif (@AhmedAbdulatif) April 18, 2013
— Abdulla Noor (@AbdullaMNoor) March 5, 2014
— Abdulla Noor (@AbdullaMNoor) March 14, 2014
— Fais Almuharraqi (@JuicyMuharraqi) January 19, 2012
— warakum (@warakum_bh) December 15, 2011
The generally libelous about being a paid stooge
— Sazzam (@sazzam2k) December 17, 2011
— سماحة السيد حارقهم (@7areghum) August 13, 2011
Or that time someone pretended to be and won the star letter award in the local newspaper for writing an article praising the Bahrain regime. (I am still waiting on that prize)..You can read more here.
All the caricatures
Let’s not forget the the drawings of me, carried out by the anonymous @WatchBahrain
The unauthorised biography
When this website trawled the internet for anything about me, and concluded that not only was I a cyber narcissist, but also a failed musician and actor….(Read the full piece here).
The time I was called a troll (threat level ‘orange’)…
To be fair, this one says I have an ‘irresistible’ smile, but my troll threat level was orange. Also, this one argued that I would attempt to seduce you by singing in Arabic…
The time I was accused of attempting to hack the person who ran the above website…
After the above posts about me and other Bahrain activists, I was accused of illegal activity…
The time I was accused of belonging to a media ‘cell’ designed to harm Bahrain’s reputation…
“الاول : فهد ديشمك باكستاني الجنسية كان في البحرين وذويه مازالوا هنا حيث أن أبيه يعمل في البحرين منذ فترة طويلة، هذا الشخص حسابه في تويتر هو @chanadbh وهذا الشخص يعمل لدى مركز البحرين لحقوق الإنسان التابع لنبيل رجب ويعمل كتف بكتف مع مريم الخواجة بل أحيانا تطلب منه السفر لدول معينة وحضور مؤتمرات ومنتديات بالنيابة عنها، بدأ حملته التشويهية على البحرين منذ عام 2004 تقريبا، وعندما تقدم بطلب للجنسية البحرينية وأثناء فترة تقدمه للطلب كان يقود حملة أكاذيب وتشويه على البحرين في المدونات والإنترنت. فاكتشفت وزارة الداخلية أمره ورحلته من البحرين، وظيفته الحالية هو تقديم الإسناد لمركز البحرين لحقوق الإنسان، والتواصل مع الإعلام الخارجي خصوصا في محيطه لتشويه سمعة البحرين، وكذلك كتابة المقالات في الإنترنت ضد البحرين مع تحريف الحقائق، أيضا هو ينسق مع الخلية الإعلامية في بريطانيا والتي تقاد من @se25a @marcowenjones وينسق كذلك مع الخلية الإعلامية في أمريكا تحت قيادة @alphaleah”
3 weeks ago, a British PR and Strategic Communication firm called Dragon Associates forced the Guardian to take down an article from their Comment is Free section. Today the Guardian have put it back up. The article in question stated that the head of security at the BIC (Bahrain International Circuit) had been involved in torturing employees on the racetrack premises. Dragon Associates claimed that the article contained ‘considerable inaccuracies’. Despite this, the article has gone back up exactly the same as before, albeit with a footnote tacked on at the end. This footnote reads
In its letter of complaint, the BIC makes the following points: while the BIC accepts that in April 2012 the police took some of its employees to the police station for interrogation, it denies the allegation that its security staff were involved in any repressive activities, or that its staff tortured, beat or mistreated BIC employees on BIC premises. The BIC says that if any of its employees were beaten or otherwise badly treated by BIC security staff – which it denies – it would have been without BIC’s knowledge, instructions or orders.
It is interesting to note that the Guardian were so quick to take down a piece that ended going back up unchanged. John Lubbock, the article’s co-author, also informed me that the piece was taken down prior to the Guardian actually receiving a formal complaint. Despite all these interesting oddities, Dragon Associates were obviously successful in stalling the incendiary article until Bahrain had more or less secured the hosting of the Grand Prix (tickets go on sale today). Furthermore, they also managed to get a footnote added to the article, which seems a bit unusual on ‘Comment is Free’. The footnote is also odd because it basically says that while the BIC deny that its security were involved in the mistreatment, it accepts that it could have happened without their knowledge. Essentially, this added paragraph does nothing to disprove the veracity of the preceding article, it merely serves to add an element of doubt to the story. Not quite sure how Dragon Associates managed to pull this off, maybe they used ‘Right of Reply’. All I know is, when these guys breathe fire, people get scared.
Tear Gas and Tyre Burning
For those who don’t see failure to reform as a good enough reason to not host the Formula One, the announcement that tickets would go on sale today was welcome. Unfortunately, however, the reporting of ‘good news’ in Bahrain is often accompanied by a concerted effort to marginalise any bad news. Indeed, I spent my morning being trolled for tweeting an article in Al-Wasat (a Bahrain newspaper) about how tear gas was harming domestic birds. This trolling included the suggestion that I carry out my own independent experiment into the potential long-term impact of tear gas on domestic avian species before tweeting the article. I suppose that’s not an unreasonable suggestion. I mean I could theoretically take a degree in biology, gain work experience in a laboratory, apply for funding to do the aforementioned project, and then, 6 years down the line, consider tweeting the Al-Wasat article again?
On a serious note, the only logical reason I can think for being trolled for tweeting that article is because I was translating ‘bad news’ and taking it to a larger audience, thus running the risk of isolating the very fickle demographic of ‘ornithological experts who also happen to love Formula One’. Or maybe I was trolled because anyone who believes tear gas is potentially lethal is an idiot! Wait, I’ve got it, it must because tear gas is actually good for us, you know, just like smoking was! People should be grateful for tear gas. Afterall, it is only used out of ‘care and respect for freedom of expression‘. Considering the potential health benefits of tear gas, which can include pulmonary edema and chemical pneumonitis, I’m surprised the company supplying Bahrain with this new tear gas chooses to remain anonymous! Surely they would want the whole world to know?!
The standard response to the mere suggestion that tear gas is harmful is usually met with the argument that ‘opposition rioters/AlWefaq thugs’ are damaging the environment when they burn tyres. Obviously this argument highlights the benevolence of the Bahrain security forces, who choose to use sweetly scented tear gas on protesters rather than rolling hundreds of flaming tyres down the street to disperse them. Afterall, let’s not forget that the police are the real victims here, and that even their tear gas is no match for the tear gas used by the protesters. Forgive the rant, I just wanted to illustrate how certain people attempt to reinforce the hegemonic discourse through intimidation, attacks on credibility, personal attacks, blame-shifting, or through creating smoke and mirrors.
Social Media Awards
Other attempts to dominate the informational control continuum have been equally crude, such as the Information Affairs Authority decision to give out Social Media Awards a week before the anniversary of February 14th. This ceremony pre-empted the Ministry of the Interior’s warning a week later, which read
Very much aware that social media poses a challenge to the regime’s ability to control its image, the Social Media Awards appeared to be an attempt to confer legitimacy and credibility on certain news sources on Twitter and Facebook. So in case you were wondering who those official sources were, those who won awards included the Foreign Minister, the Ministry of the Interior, two very pro-government newspapers (Al-Ayam and Al-Watan), the Bahrain News Agency (itself part of the IAA). There was even an award for ‘most-distinguished-expat‘, which was awarded to someone who thinks it’s ok to call people brainless whilst also saying saying that Nabeel Rajab sent thugs to cut off an Englishman’s fingers. Personally, I was disappointed to see that Bahrain’s most distinguished expat never showed up to the ceremony, mainly because it would do a lot to mitigate people’s concerns about the proliferation of numerous pro-government sock puppet accounts.
The BBC has also been affected by the insidious influence of PR of late. Not only have they produced two articles that appear to whitewash abuses in Bahrain, but they have also had to apologize after airing a number of documentaries on Malaysia and Egypt that were actually produced by companies who received millions of dollars from those governments to do strategic political communication. On a similar note, the BBC World Service show ‘World Have Your Say’ broadcast a show last week that concerned the media war in Bahrain. Among the topics discussed was the government PR machine, though unbeknownst to the BBC, one of the guests on the show is the managing director of a company who receives money from the government to do PR. Another guest on the show was also suggested to the BBC by a PR company connected to the royal family, though the BBC were quick to emphasise that she was not representing the royal family. Interestingly, this show was aired six hours after ‘ World Have Your Say’ hosted another show on Bahrain, one that contained some guests that were very critical of the regime. People in Bahrain reported that the show cut out, and the next day this was blamed on a ‘router failure at one of the third parties that provides streaming services to the BBC over the weekend’. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps an attempt to reassert control over the ‘message’?
So as you can see, the information war in Bahrain is insidious, inexorable and unpleasant. The snapshot provided in the blog is just one aspect of a broader trend – the attempt control information and ‘media content through propaganda, psychological operations, information intervention, and strategic public diplomacy.’ (Bakir, 2011) For this reason, it is imperative that we fight back, lest we allow the public sphere to be completely distorted by wealth and power.
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