Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bahrain's Troll Army

Video of the violence, as soon as this started a early mass flood of pro-government tweets ended. Was it a planned disinformation campaign by the Bahrain State?

Today we are following the events in Bahrain. This morning before we could even see the news of a massive violent crack down in Pearl Roundabout we saw very high levels of tweeting coming from that location. You can track Pearl Roundabout in real time here.

"An Al Jazeera correspondent, who cannot be named for security reasons, said on Thursday that "clashes were no longer limited to one place...they are now spread out in different parts of the city"."

There were also reports of dozens of armoured vehicles moving towards the Pearl Roundabout, the protest site that was raided by the riot police.

Heavily-armed police stormed the traffic circle while the protesters camped overnight and were asleep.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Salmaniya hospital, the main medical facility in Manama, Maryama Alkawaka of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said that she saw dozens of injured demonstrators being wheeled into emergency rooms early on Thursday morning.

We also noticed that the vast army of Regime supporters who were flooding cyberspace with pro-governments Tweets had all but vanished from the #Bahrain hashtag. It was extremely disturbing to see. Real life people don't just turn themselves off in mass.

Clearly what happened was, faced with the growing popularity of the protests, the Regime first sent in the trolls and then called back the trolls and sent in the troops.

This is a sad new chapter of the development of social networks. Clearly the Regime in Bahrain has tried to do to Twitter and YouTube what Mubarak tried to do on the streets of Cairo. A large group of organized troll accounts were created by the government. They then flooded twitter with a disinformation campaign. Given the intensity of this campaign just before the Regime launched its violent attacks we can only conclude that the Bahrain Troll Attack was planned to support and prepare the way for the big violent attack. Once violence broke out the Troll Army vanished as suddenly as it had emerged.

Many people on Twitter identified the people as trolls. So fairly quickly people were exposing the worst examples of Trolls. But we believe that the target of this attack was not to make people necessarily believe that the protesters in Pearl Roundabout were Shia Terrorist working for Iran, but rather to undermine the necessary bonds of trust on a social network that make it work.

Key things we observed in this Troll Attack
  • Troll Army used very high quality avatar images, generally with attractive models.
  • Troll Army emerges and vanishes very quickly and in mass
  • Troll Army make appeals to vague concepts like family, order, and economic prosperity
  • Troll Army will imply that the opposition is violent
We believe that Troll Attacks like the one we have just seen in Bahrain pose a serious threat to future democratic movements and the just and equitable usage of Social Networks. In the future such attacks will target trust between participants in a social network and between a community and a wider global network. The Troll Army object is to prevent networks forming in to communities.

In this case the Troll Army was deployed to prepare for actual violence. In the future it may be used for other purposes.

This research is conducted by Total Social Media Web 3.0 Lab


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