Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were heralded circa 2009–2011 as ‘liberation technology’ that would facilitate mass mobilization against Middle Eastern authoritarians. In this article, however, we present evidence from the ongoing Gulf Crisis (2017-present) that regimes can now exploit Twitter as an outlet for political propaganda. Drawing in part on novel data collected by the authors, we present strong evidence of state actors manipulating discourse on Twitter through direct intervention, offline coercion or co-optation of existing social-media “influencers,” and the mass production of online statements via automated “bot” accounts. We further present evidence that this manipulation is aimed at securing organic participation from supportive publics.
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