Comparative Approaches to Mis/Disinformation| Electronic Armies or Cyber Knights? The Sources of Pro-Authoritarian Discourse on Middle East Twitter
A decade after commentators hailed social media as “liberation technology,” researchers, analysts, and journalists are now likelier to emphasize the “dark side” of social media as offering autocratic regimes a potent toolkit for information control. Although important work has established how social media can advantage authoritarian regimes, we suggest that much proregime content stems from the decentralized efforts of active regime supporters rather than top-down manipulation by a handful of state officials. We demonstrate the plausibility of this claim by finding little evidence of top-down manipulation within several hashtags that align with regime narratives in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, we find little evidence of bot presence on 279 prominent hashtags from across the Middle East and North Africa. Regimes may lay the groundwork for online displays of support, but they hardly have a monopoly on proauthoritarian rhetoric.