Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Bahrain Regime's Double Headed Censorship Model For Social Media

Bahrain: Since the beginning of the pro-democracy protests on February 14th, the Bahraini authorities have used advanced internet technology to crush and shape online dissent. Sites such as FaceBook, YouTube & Twitter have seen hundreds of newly spawned user profiles that use what George Orwell would call pro-government Duckspeak. The effect is a two sided attack on an accurate historic record of the events in Bahrain, first is the silencing of dissent, second is a flood of pro-regime propaganda to fill the void created through censorship.

First head - Censorship by Bahraini regime:

The Bahraini Authorities are not new at censoring techniques to silence dissent. As in 2009 the Al-Khalifa's launched a campaign of blocking sites deemed offensive to the regime that included the Bahrain Human Rights Centre and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), both of which were classified as 'Pornography'. 1040 sites were blocked at that time with software the Bahraini monarchy purchased from a U.S. company McAfee called SmartFilter. A tool which according to McAfee “filters and monitors internet use to control outbound web access and protect against web-based threats.”

Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia also use McAfee's SmartFilter software which doesn't allow for censorship outside of it's predefined scopes of content deemed disagreeable out-of-the-box. However the product can be modified such that it can restrict access to a broad range of websites and online services. The same modification that allowed Bahrain to launch what it called an “anti-pornography” campaign of censorship.

The same software was utilized by Tunisian authorities during the recent revolt that saw the departure of Ben Ali. In Tunisia, SmartFilter was modified by the authorities to return a 403 “Forbidden” error for requested restricted pages instead of the normal 404“File Not Found” error. The modification performed centers around re-categorizing sites such as blogs, outside news sites, videos deemed harmful etc. as pornographic content, then allowing SmartFilter to restrict hundreds of sites at once. The goal here is to remove as much information about the events in Bahrain as possible.

Second Head - Spawned accounts to propagate the regime's narrative.

These new accounts share similar hash tags, targets and followers. The number of accounts is in the hundreds. Proof however of spawning fake accounts onto Social Media profiles by Bahraini authorities is not going to be as easy to detect as the 20% drop in internet connectivity throughout the country in Mid-February.1 However, there is some proof of many accounts being spawned in a short time in Bahrain that push pro-regime points of view over social media sites. Accounts such as @FebupBahrainia, were created around mid-February (24th for account in question)& sent their first communications targeting the protesters in the streets of Bahrain as well as targeting Nick Kristof for his reporting. (List of other suspicious accounts provided bellow)

Numerous other user accounts have popped up since February 13th yet there exists no distinguishable traits about the spawned accounts other than their similar rhetoric lines. Some accounts have posted many more messages than others, some accounts have been abandoned, only to be replaced with similar account.

However, there are two identifiable types of spawned accounts, first: The sophist. The sophist accounts attempt to skew the situation in Bahrain by spreading news that the regime finds favorable. They will re-post the same link with at least 10 different titles, attempting to supply the social media with information after they've starved the world of it, only it's the regimes MOI that decides whats acceptable. Second type of spawn account put out by the Bahraini regime are abusers. These users are the ones that seek out pro-democracy supporters on Twitter or FaceBook to send threatening and insulting messages. Well known accounts like @AngryArabiya & @Nabeelrajab are under constant verbal assault online with labels such as “Terrorists”, “traitors”, “criminals”, etc.

What We Know:

  • Traces on the abusers' IP addresses reveal that the users are indeed on a Bahraini server.
  • Vast majority of spawned accounts were created just after the announcement of protests and have coincided with censorship attempts that have been made.
  • Fake accounts will promote videos that have been edited and posted to YouTube that suggest that protesters are actually a violent mob.
  • The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority(April 25) released two “Safe Surf Bahrain” Newsletters talking about the abuse of social media. The Bahraini Authorities 'encourage' users of social media such as BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter to “refrain from posting, forwarding or re-Tweeting messages that are untrue, or of an extreme nature, violent or pornographic.” (Note: Bahraini Authorities definition of “pornographic” widely varies from anyone else's definition to include news, politics, videos of protests, evidence of abuse, etc. )
  • Several videos of protests in Bahrain have been removed from YouTube for being to violent of content, or for showing “Pornography”. Yet video's of Libya, Syria, & Yemen remain mostly unchallenged.
  • In October of 2010, Bahrain authorities arrested twenty-three men for plotting to overthrow regime after calling for street protests and media activism. Pro-government “activists” then proceeded to taunt opposition leaders across Twitter.
  • Most of the accounts used in the recent wave of verbal abuse on opposition leaders were not used to taunt them just six months ago. A move which would be required after a user is blocked by the person that they wish to target.2
  • Facebook pages like “Together to detect traitors Doctors” have been created since protests began that accuse medical personnel of 'assisting violent protesters by transporting them weapons in ambulances.'(http://goo.gl/DvUii)

With this double headed form of censorship Bahrain replaces dissent with Pro-regime narratives, presenting a calm Bahrain while simultaneously covering up the events on the ground. This Bahraini form of Crimestop (Orwell) creates its own protective stupidity, then foments ultra orthodoxy in the social media.


  1. Reporters Without Borders, (2011). Countries under surveillance – Bahrain. Retrieved from: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,,,BHR,,4d82268a21,0.html
  2. Frederik Richter, (2010). Reuters, Lively Bahrain social media face government pressure. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/10/21/us-bahrain-crackdown-internet-idUSTRE69K2OG20101021


  1. Another Bahrain terrorist sympathizer... You are fueling the violence. We are beautiful without your help, Bahrain isn't Egypt or Libya..

  2. Please keep the list up to date. I will post a few when I'm back onlne!

  3. Reporters without Borders - no a in borders! : )

  4. http://proudbahraini.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/bahrain-centre-for-human-rights-by-k-niethammer/

    Much of this is very similar to what Liliane Khalil used in a recent "article". Is she a real person?

  5. That is a matter for debate, i personally think she is real, but i bet theres a conflict of interest in there at some point.

    Gluonman is pretty convinced that she is "fake", and originally put her under pro-Bahrain bots.

    If you ever read "Animal Farm" by George Orwell then you might understand Liliane Khalil through the white goat Murial who obediently reads the commandments to Clover(the gullible horse) whenever requested to do so.

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