The Washington Post reports that Saudi Arabia has found its own way to combat negative press and comments rising from the disappearance of American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The journalist, who worked for The Washington Post, disappeared earlier this month when he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi has not been seen alive after he made this journey on October 2. Since, officials from Turkey have come forward to say they have proof that Khashoggi was murdered inside the building.
Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression pic.twitter.com/SY82fC13fd— Robert Snyder (@rsnyderpsu) October 18, 2018
Khashoggi was critical of the Saudi royal family, particularly the current crown prince.
But you won’t see much of this reflected on Saudi Twitter accounts. Around 9 am on Tuesday morning, Saudi accounts began flooding Twitter with hashtags promoting a “message of love for Mohammed bin Salman,” the country’s crown prince. Another hashtag prompted users to “unfollow enemies of the nation.”
By Wednesday, the “unfollow” hashtag had been used over 100,000 times. Perhaps this is a genuine message of support from Saudi citizens…but perhaps this is all being done by bots. When Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia in 2017, Twitter was flooded with welcome messages. Around 80 to 90 percent of these messages were tracked and determined to have been produced by bots.
Saudi Arabia does not have a free press, and the government does use tactics to track the online movements of citizens of the country. In this last week, some social media accounts based in Saudi Arabia have been spreading negative stories and messages about Khashoggi.
Quickly browsing Twitter shows that the Saudi Gazette, an English language daily newspaper in the country, has tweeted out no news about Khashoggi. The same is true with the official Saudi Embassy Twitter account.
This week, a Saudi government-controlled TV station aired a segment claiming that the 15 men who Turkey alleges killed Jamal Khashoggi were actually tourists, reports Business Insider.
The U.S. has asked Turkey to provide their evidence of Khashoggi’s death, which Turkish officials have said they have. According to reports, Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by 15 men who comprised a hit squad. His fingers were broken and his body was mutilated. Less than two hours after Khashoggi walked into the consulate, several Saudi diplomatic vehicles were seen driving from the consulate to the consul’s home.
Turkish investigators have already searched the consulate and the consul’s home to look for evidence of the alleged murder as part of their ongoing investigation. On Wednesday, Turkey gave the American media scanned copies of 7 passports they say belonged to members of the hit squad.