Yemeni activist subjected to Saudi trolling after Facebook appointment

Nobel Prize awarded Yemeni activist hit by Saudi smear campaign after Facebook board appointment
3 min read
12 May, 2020
Outspoken Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, has been subjected to a smear campaign by Saudi media after she was appointed to Facebook’s Oversight Board.
Tawakkol Karman says she was subjected to ‘widespread trolling’ [Getty]

Yemeni activist and Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman said on Monday that she has been subjected to a campaign of online harassment by Saudi media ever since she was appointed to Facebook’s Oversight Board.

The 20-member Oversight Board - which includes journalists, lawyers and a former Danish prime minister - will have the final say on whether Facebook and Instagram should allow or remove specific content.

In a Twitter post on Monday - Karman, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy and women’s rights activism - said, "I am subjected to widespread bullying & a smear campaign by #Saudi media & its allies."

Karman referred to the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in her tweet, indicating fears that she could be the target of physical violence.

What is more important now is to be safe from the saw used to cut #jamalkhashoggi’s body into pieces. I am in my way to #Turkey & I consider this as a report to the international public opinion."

Forty-one-year-old Karman has spoken out against both the 2015 Saudi-UAE intervention in the Yemeni civil war and the rebel Houthi movement, which controls the capital.

She was previously a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islah movement, but was suspended in 2018 for her criticism of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The English-language Saudi newspaper Arab News wrote scathing commentary about Karman's appointment to Facebook's Oversight Board.

"It rings the alarm about the judgement of Facebook, a social networking behemoth that claims to be an unbiased arbiter of international political discourse," the newspaper wrote. It went on to smear the Yemeni activist as a "dictatorial" personality who had supposedly urged young protesters to march to their deaths during the 2011 Yemeni revolution.

The UAE newspaper Al-Ain also joined in the chorus of criticism of Karman, saying that the social media network had become "a stage for the broadcast of hate" due to her appointment.

Read also: Palestinians are next on Saudi Arabia’s hit list

On Twitter, Saudi-aligned accounts published cartoons derogatory to Karman and played up her alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood. They also said they would delete their Facebook accounts in response to her Oversight Board appointment.

Arabic hashtags such as #Delete_Facebook_because_of_Tawakkol_Karman and #I_reject_the_Facebook_Oversight_Board were used.

However, previous Saudi Twitter campaigns have been proven by social media analysts to be manufactured and unrepresentative of public opinion, with thousands of suspicious Twitter accounts churning out near-identical tweets in support of the Saudi government line.

The Yemeni human rights organization SAM for Rights and Liberties condemned the campaign against Karman, saying in a statement that "personalities close to the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, as well as newspapers and satellite channels financed by these two regimes had joined a campaign of hate, and this was not a normal manifestation of responsible expression of opinion".

Karman has previously been targeted by Project Raven, a UAE hacking operation, with her iPhone being successfully infiltrated.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected