Khashoggi's fiancee has been targeted on social media following his disappearance, and users have pointed the finger at Qatar and Turkey
The disappearance and suspected murder of veteran Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week has set off a storm of reaction on social media.
I keep imagining Jamal Khashoggi’s final moments. The reporting today has left me with ice in my veins. I still have no words.
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) October 10, 2018
Mostly, users have been sharing shock at the news, but amongst the posts of mourning, as well as hopes that the news might prove untrue, Saudi loyalists have been flooding social media with theories of their own.
Turkish officials told Middle East Eye that they know what happened to Khashoggi after he entered the consulate building, claiming that they are sure that he was assassinated inside.
They have not yet provided evidence or spoken on the record regarding the details of their investigation.
But Riyadh has insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, and that they are unaware of his whereabouts. However, they have provided no evidence for him leaving the premises.
The Saudi consul-general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, said on Saturday that Khashoggi was not in the consulate or in Saudi Arabia after the consulate was opened to Reuters journalists.
“We are worried about this case,” he added.
However not everyone was so concerned about the fate of Khashoggi.
And here is the video of the disgusting comments. The speaker is Fuad Hashim, a Kuwaiti writer. He begins by saying “news of Jamal being killed and cut made me laugh a lot!”
It starts at 04:50 https://t.co/AV11sfC7Vy
— Dana Jaf (@TheDanaJaf) October 11, 2018
The Qatari leadership’s devious and reckless behavior is clearly coming to the open!
No longer respect to their brothers in GCC, nor are ashamed in Arab League.. for their global destructive role and pathetic alliance with the Arab’s enemies...
Disgraceful involvement with evil!
— Abdulaziz Al Naimi (@NaimiAbdulaziz) October 10, 2018
Anyone who is genuinely concerned about Khashoggi should demand answers, not criticise Saudi Arabia. Turkey is leaking contradictory info and says they have evidence. Why aren't they releasing it? Simple: It doesnt exist or it implicates Turkey.
— Ghanem Nuseibeh (@gnuseibeh) October 10, 2018
'Pro-Saudi Twitter bots'
While Turkish sources maintain their certainty of Khashoggi’s assassination, with CCTV footage shows Khashoggi entering, but not leaving - social media has been filled with posts smearing Khashoggi and his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and blaming Turkey and Qatar for his disappearance.
1. Saudi propaganda station posts questionable story.
2. Saudi bots/sycophants/propagandists/(???) get to work flooding the mentions with inane conspiracy theories drawing in Qatar, Erdogan, and the Muslim Brotherhood. pic.twitter.com/RszXzChloJ
— Shafik Mandhai (@ShafikFM) October 8, 2018:
And some posts use the exact same wording
#Jamal_khashoggi The Khashoggi story is increasingly looking like an orchestrated anti Saudi campaign spearheaded by Qatari and Turkish media & those on their books. Endless tweets by Aljazeera for example, deleted, changed etc etc, giving different stories.
— Asayel |🐪🇸🇦 (@AsailMBS) October 8, 2018
The Khashoggi story is increasingly looking like an orchestrated anti Saudi campaign spearheaded by Qatari and Turkish media & those on their books. Endless tweets by Aljazeera for example, deleted, changed etc etc, giving different stories.
— Ghanem Nuseibeh (@gnuseibeh) October 7, 2018
Another account, known as "the Saudi alliance" on Twitter, even theorised that Cengiz is actually a man posing as Khashoggi's fiance.
الاخونجي الهارب. " محمد محسوب " يعتقد بأنه هو المتنكر بخديجة خطيبة خاشقجي "المزعومة"@monther72 @fdeet_alnssr @Kafalsaud78 @KKSA2030 @kho12ao @F_H_D19 @AASAAKSA @5a1di @Alkhaldi9999999 @Alrad3sa @Abualfawarss123 @70sul
— الحلف السعودي (@Inspiroon) October 10, 2018
Users have accused Saudi-run outlets of spreading propaganda, as well as claiming that much of the unusual theorising online is being spread by bots.
This is really disgraceful, even for a propaganda outlet like Al Arabiya...Hatice Cengiz included a picture of the couple in her WaPo article. Subjecting someone to crass innuendo like this when their partner has disappeared is beyond sick. https://t.co/sscS7aiHm7 pic.twitter.com/DBHWGl87vu
— Shafik Mandhai (@ShafikFM) October 10, 2018
Account established this month, two followers, 11 tweets/retweets - all of which pedal conspiracy theories about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. Do ordinary people decide to just set up accounts peddling anti-Qatar talking points on whim? pic.twitter.com/eMpD3GErcY
— Shafik Mandhai (@ShafikFM) October 9, 2018
One user went back through Cengiz’ tweets and wrote a thread on Twitter poking fun at her, and questioning her relationship with Khashoggi.
The user also labelled Cengiz as part of the “Qatar blockade gang", quoting tweets she had posted in support of the Gulf country after Saudi Arabia and allies severed diplomatic ties last year.
In an attempt to deflect blame, one user also brought up the case of a US pastor who has been held in Turkey, and at the heart of a diplomatic row between the two countries:
It's amazing how much you care about khashoggi and on the other hand you never ever care about US oppressed pastor in Turkey , Murder and fabrication charges Turkey is behind them and Khashoggi was killed by the Turkish and Qatar government because he stopped dealing with them‼️
— ﮼بندربن،دخيّل (@BandarBinDakhil) October 9, 2018
The audacity from the Saudis here is expected, but also insane. You can't smooth over the murder of a US resident and Washington Post columnist. https://t.co/LtxN9Ez6R5
— Evan Hill (@evanchill) October 10, 2018
"This isn't a case of differing opinion on the facts, it's abuse of social media by state actors using bot accounts on a large scale to confuse narratives, spread false information and harass opponent," said Ahmed Gatnash, co-founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation, a think-tank which works to promote liberal values in the Muslim world, speaking to MEE.
"Twitter have repeatedly been informed of this and urged to act."
Common use of 'bot' accounts
This is not the first time "bots" have been used to amplify Saudi narratives of events. Assistant professor of history at the Exeter Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Marc Owen Jones, has researched the use of "pro-Saudi Twitter bots" to amplify online speech which is in favour of the kingdom.
In Graphs, How Pro Saudi Twitter Bots Boost Trumps Ego (and his retweet count). I have compiled a bewildering, uncensored & illicit array of graphs to show how @realDonaldTrump 's pro-King Salman tweet was amplified by bots. https://t.co/RS7jDxKquK #Bots #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/lI46voZEeO
— Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) November 13, 2017
Following a diplomatic row between Riyadh and Canada after Ottawa called on the kingdom to release political prisoners, a similar flooding of social media in support of Saudi Arabia took place. Many accounts were again using the same phrases and wording in their posts criticising Canada.
Saudi bots have started attacking #Canada online. The trending hashtag is #السعودية_تطرد_السفير_الكندي and most tweets contain stuff like "mind your business", "free Quebec" or "help your hobos first"...
— Youssef Cherif (@Faiyla) August 5, 2018
The Saudis on Tuesday rescinded an offer they made originally to allow Turkish forensic experts onto the premises.
Their offer was withdrawn after Turkish media outlets published a list of 15 Saudis who arrived in Istanbul on the same day Khashoggi disappeared.