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Tunisia crisis prompts surge in foreign social media manipulation

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The political crisis in Tunisia has been deepened by gush social media manipulation and propaganda springing mostly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), much of it attempting to re-write the narrative so that it justifies Tunisian President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend parliament and sack the prime minister.

Soon after Tunisians received the news of Saied’s unprecedented move on Sunday, the hashtag “Tunisians revolt against the brotherhood” began to trend on Twitter, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

A critical analysis by experts shows 12,000 tweets from 6,800 unique Twitter accounts on the hashtag “Tunisians revolt against the brotherhood” revealed a concerted effort by Gulf-based influencers to portray the actions of the president as a popular Tunisian revolt against Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, the majority of users tweeting with the hashtag reported their location as being either in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. In addition, the top 10 most influential accounts on the hashtag were all Gulf influencers also based in Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

They pushed narratives that sought to frame the president’s extraordinary measures as a popular revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood. It is, however, clear that Tunisians on Twitter were not reporting en masse that they were rebelling against the Brotherhood.

Rather, it was propagandists speaking on behalf of Tunisians, attempting to convince local and international audiences that the Muslim Brotherhood represents an existential threat and that liberation from them is a justification for a return to authoritarianism.

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