The online war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia - BBC News
A year-long political conflict between the tiny, wealthy state of Qatar and its larger neighbours - including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - has been fought with a new arsenal of weapons: bots, fake news and hacking.
In the early hours of 24 May 2017, a news story appeared on the website of Qatar’s official news agency, QNA, reporting that the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, had made an astonishing speech.
The quotes then appeared on the QNA’s social media accounts and on the news ticker running along the bottom of the screen on videos uploaded to the agency’s YouTube channel.
The emir was quoted praising Islamist groups Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. And perhaps most controversially of all, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival.
Qatari citizens have expressed their support for their emir on a mural in Doha
But the story soon disappeared from the QNA website, and Qatar’s foreign ministry issued a statement denying the speech had ever taken place. No video footage has ever emerged of the emir actually saying the words supposedly attributed to him.
Qatar claimed that the QNA had been hacked. And they said the hack was designed to deliberately spread fake news about the country’s leader and its foreign policies. The Qataris specifically blamed UAE, an allegation later repeated by a Washington Post report which cited US intelligence sources. The UAE categorically denied those reports.
But the story of the emir’s speech unleashed a media free-for-all. Within minutes, Saudi and UAE-owned TV networks - Al Arabiya and Sky News Arabia - picked up on the comments attributed to al-Thani. Both networks accused Qatar of funding extremist groups and of destabilising the region.
And soon after there was another alleged hacking - this time, targeted at the UAE. Youssef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the US was hacked. His emails were leaked to the press. This led to long, lurid articles about his private life in international media.