In This Review
Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Deception, Disinformation, and Social Media

Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Deception, Disinformation, and Social Media

By Marc Owen Jones

Oxford University Press, 2022, 272 pp.

By the time readers arrive at the end of Jones’s astonishing examination of social media in the Middle East, they will be completely persuaded that it is now impossible to tell whether anything they read online is true. Replete with bots and sock puppets, trolls and dupes, this online world is both profoundly silly and deeply scary. Accordingly, the book is by turns funny and terrifying as it details efforts by governments, notably Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, to shape what people say, think, and do. Jones acknowledges that governments have always used public relations and propaganda to influence audiences at home and abroad. But he shows that the new information and communication technologies, which were once thought destined to free civil society and strengthen the public sphere, are also tremendously effective tools of deception and tyranny. Armies of bots and trolls motivated by money, power, and, sometimes, it seems, sheer perversity, spew out tweets and posts, fake news articles, fake news outlets, and even fake journalists; as Jones puts it, “You are being lied to by people who do not even exist.” This deception pollutes public discourse across the Middle East and, more important, inhibits the critical thinking of the citizenry.