Open thread for night owls: Saudi Arabia turns to trolls to spread 'their own version of reality'
The New York Times reports on the Saudi Arabia's efforts to control online dissent using what is fast becoming one of the most reliable tools of autocracies worldwide: A government-run army of social media trolls.
Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations.
Many Saudis had hoped that Twitter would democratize discourse by giving everyday citizens a voice, but Saudi Arabia has instead become an illustration of how authoritarian governments can manipulate social media to silence or drown out critical voices while spreading their own version of reality. [...]
One arm of the crackdown on dissidents originates from offices and homes in and around Riyadh, where hundreds of young men hunt on Twitter for voices and conversations to silence. This is the troll farm, described by three people briefed on the project and the messages among group members.
Its directors routinely discuss ways to combat dissent, settling on sensitive themes like the war in Yemen or women’s rights. They then turn to their well-organized army of “social media specialists” via group chats in apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, sending them lists of people to threaten, insult and intimidate; daily tweet quotas to fill; and pro-government messages to augment.
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BLAST FROM THE PAST
On this date at Daily Kos in 2013—Bush not Cheney's puppet, Peter Baker's new book says. Iraq invasion done to kick 'somebody's ass':
For more than a decade, ever since Dick Cheney used his assignment to select a vice presidential candidate for George W. Bush to pick himself, the conventional wisdom has been that the former secretary of defense and former CEO of Halliburton pulled Bush's strings. In 2008, for example, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of the Washington Post won a Pulitzer prize for their four-part 2007 series—Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency that reinforced the view of Bush as willing and weak-willed marionette.
Peter Baker's 650-page new book—Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House—presents a different view of the relationship between Bush and Cheney. Baker, who covered the Bush administration first for the Washington Post and subsequently The New York Times (where he is now chief White House correspondent), agrees that Cheney was the «most powerful vice president» of modern times. But he does not present George Bush as second-in-command to the imperious Cheney […]
As one senior official who came to rue his involvement in Iraq put it, “The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy.”
That may well be the unnamed senior adviser's perspective, but this we-did-Iraq-to-prove-our-manhood assertion doesn't mesh well with the reality of the Iraq invasion that other Bush White House insiders—such as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill—have confirmed was on the agenda in January 2001. The September 11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a convenient excuse for pinning something on Saddam Hussein, even though he had nothing to do it. It wasn't just «somebody's ass.» Hussein's Iraq was a specific target of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century long before Cheney, one of its charter members, even considered running for vice president. While Cheney and Bush may well have been at odds, that wasn't enough to stop slaughter in Iraq, torture everywhere and a legacy of tens of thousands of brain-damaged American veterans plus a $3 trillion-plus hole in the Treasury.
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