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Who’s spying on the Lush Summit? Alleged Bahraini officials attend Bahrain Watch talk

Two unexpected guests who were recognised by the campaign group Bahrain Watch as Bahraini officials attended an internet surveillance talk at the Lush Summit today.

Bahrain Watch research, investigate and raise awareness on the impact of government control and internet surveillance in the Middle East.

But their talk was somewhat upstaged by the presence of two men sat in the front rows taking notes.

This type of behaviour demonstrates the extent to which governments will go to silence, shape and control the conversations and information shared.

Aware of the elephant in the room, speaker and co founder of Dr Ala Shehabi appealed to the  alleged representatives for questions or comment.

She said: “We welcome Bahraini Embassy who attend a lot of our events these days. We would also appreciate that transparency from the government.”

The men did not comply.

During the talk, the group discussed the dangers of government control in both the Middle East and to the wider world. Lead researcher Marc Owen Jones highlighted the prevalence of fake news, propaganda and twitter bots that post fake tweets, “drown out legitimate discourse” and make finding “legitimate information” extremely difficult.

He said: “Hate speech in the region is being automated to such an extent that 50% of tweets on any given day are by bots.”

He continued “It is very difficult to find out what is a bot, and who is involved in making them”

Lush’s Alessandro Commisso closed the discussion by offering the unknown guests two Error 404 bath bombs that read “ to fight internet shut downs #KeepItOn’.

The Bahraini government responded to a request for comment denying knowledge of the event. They said: “No diplomat or official attended the event, and the Embassy does not have a stance against nor does it monitor or restrict anyone’s attendance to a public event.”

The two men later attended another Digital Ethics talk entitled Digital Ethics in the Middle East. When asked to identify themselves they claimed to have no connection to the Bahraini embassy.

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