When govts and citizens wage Twitter wars – can we learn anything from Saudi Arabia?

Leonard Sengere Avatar

Election season is in full swing in Zimbabwe, and politicians are working overtime to drum up support. However, it is interesting to note that social media is not playing as big a role in this effort as radio and television.

This is likely due to the demographics of internet access in Zimbabwe. More than half the population does not have access.

This means that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not reaching a large enough audience to be effective for political campaigns. Hence why you are mostly free to tweet away as you please.

If Twitter could change fortunes, trust me, we would see Saudi Arabia’s levels of Twitter use by Zim politicians.

Arabia, the kings of Twitter

The Arab world was rocked by uprisings and protests in the early 2010s. By the time that chapter concluded, some heads of state were on the run and some had been deleted from existence.

Social media, Facebook, in particular, was used to organise the protests.

So, you can imagine how many leaders in the Middle East decided to take social media seriously. Saudi Arabia took it to the next level.

Saudi Arabia realised that barring its citizens from using Twitter would be both difficult and counterproductive. Banning Twitter would be a PR nightmare for a country trying to present itself as a free one.

So, the Saudi people can use Twitter but so can the government and boy, does the government use Twitter.

The government has taken steps to control the flow of information on the platform. For example, it has banned certain hashtags and accounts and has been accused and/or caught doing the following shady stuff:

  • creating fake accounts that pose as real people or organisations
  • using bots to amplify pro-Saudi messages and drown out criticism
  • paying people to spread pro-Saudi messages on Twitter
  • targeting specific hashtags and conversations with pro-Saudi messages

Peep this from 2020,

Twitter also removed a network of 5,350 accounts linked to the Saudi monarchy operating out of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Together they had tweeted 36.5m times praising the Saudi leadership or criticising Qatar and Turkish activity in Yemen.

The Guardian

Naughty Saudi, very naughty Saudi. This propaganda campaign has been used to promote the Saudi government’s agenda, including its human rights record, its military interventions, and its economic policies. It has also been used to attack Saudi Arabia’s critics, including journalists, activists, and dissidents.

That same year, Oxford Computational Propaganda Project found that Saudi Arabia was one of the top five countries in the world for using Twitter to spread propaganda.

The propaganda machine

Here is a crazy stat, the Middle East is home to over 480 million people. Saudi Arabia contributes 32 million to that total, about 7%. However, Saudi Arabia is responsible for 40% of tweets in the Arab world.

It is not because the Saudi people love Twitter that much. No. Most of those tweets come from people paid to tweet pro-government stuff.

They will dislike any government criticism, leading to algorithms ranking those posts lower. They will flood Twitter with their own hashtags to drown out anything else and so on…

As you can imagine, they are effective at it but some Saudis had enough and did something about it.

The Bees

A movement that called itself The Bees Army decided to fight fire with fire against the government on social media. You know, a hashtag for a hashtag kind of warfare.

Their campaign sought to challenge the rosy picture the government painted on social media with the truth, or what they deem to be the truth. So, they tweeted like crazy themselves to counter the government’s varakashi trolls.

The Bees went beyond that, offering journalists and other people the platform to criticise the government with less fear of government retaliation. The founder of the movement tragically lost his life because of this though.

The founder’s assassination was followed by a rounding up of other Bee members who were arrested etc. So, the movement was essentially halted although a few fragments remain today. No doubt too little to give the government sleepless nights.

Cyber vs guns

You know, sometimes one forgets that there are people behind those usernames we see on the internet. Okay, we do interact with bots more than we realise but there are people behind some of the usernames we see and so the cyber world is not an escape from this physical one but rather an extension of it.

Whatever reality exists in your world is likely to exist in the cyber world. Unless all you’re doing is living out your fantasy as a ruthless gangster on GTA, you can count on some kind of consequence for your actions online.

So, this is me expressing an opinion that you can criticise whoever you want on Twitter in Zimbabwe unlike in Saudi Arabia. However, if you go further and then start to organise protests or stuff like that, then you could find that cyber turns physical really fast. This might not happen, but it might so you better keep it in mind.

We are entering the final stretch of the election cycle, so please, be safe out there. Elections and violence = same WhatsApp group, or so it has been in the past. Do not be naive as you tweet away, know the risks and only proceed if they are risks you can stomach.

Also read:

Dear government, threats make people mistrust the system more

Is the Zimbabwean Government Prepared to Thwart Cyber Attacks?


  1. Bounty hunter

    Politicians assassin will hunt anyone who opposes the government as for I’m not ready to die for politics… Srry for Saudi Arabian guy who dead for criticizing government

    1. Drupe

      Funny thing they try byall means to lure people who are not in favor of them by posting stupid comments once you answer you done for๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

    2. Snowden Style

      This is fair. But if you are a dedicated cadre, there are ways to post more securely. It’s not convenient, and there is a learning curve but it can be done. Just be aware, if you present a big enough profile to warrant the full attention of a state entity, GG

  2. Ed.

    It’s not a safe world the devils are in control

    1. Ed.

      It’s not a safe world the devils are in control Were is Baba jukwa

  3. ttt

    It’s a dog eat dog world.