Hypocrisy and Propaganda: Twitter Parody Account Takes Harsh Aim at Bana Alabed

© AFP 2022 / Thaer MohammedSyrian Bana al-Abed is filmed by her mother as they prepare to post on Twitter in English about life in the besieged eastern districts of Syria's Aleppo, on October 12, 2016.
Syrian Bana al-Abed is filmed by her mother as they prepare to post on Twitter in English about life in the besieged eastern districts of Syria's Aleppo, on October 12, 2016. - Sputnik International
To the immense amusement of many, a Twitter account has been set up, purporting to belong to a seven-year-old child living in Paris. The 'girl', Benoite Abedoux, calls for "airstrikes on France" due to authorities' violent crackdown on 'gilets jaunes' protesters - an obvious satire of the now seemingly forgotten Bana Alabed.

While the account has been active for less than a week and a half as of December 10, @Abedoux has already accrued thousands of followers and tweeted almost 300 times, posting a mixture of memes, messages and pictures, all mocking in the extreme.

A primary target of the account's sardonic ire is Emmanuel Macron, whose unpopular leadership was a key initial driver of the yellow-vested protests which have deluged cities, towns and even villages France-wide since mid-November.

​In particular, the account calls out the President for his apparent double standards, for while Macron has repeatedly stated "Assad must go" due to the Syrian leader's robust response to the effective invasion of his country by violent jihadist elements, he evidently sees no issue with sanctioning law enforcement to employ extremely brutal measures against peaceful protesters on French streets.

​Tweets suggest Macron possesses weapons of mass destruction, is deploying chemical weapons against civilians, and has ordered bombing campaigns on major metropolitan centres.

​The fictional seven-year-old also makes frequent references to the "Free French Army" being trained in Syria in order to help liberate France from Macron's clutches and the "Yellow Helmets" distributing medical support to injured citizens, and calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the 'moderate rebels' in their quest to remove the President from power.

Silly but Serious?

Despite the account's obviously parodic nature, some less discerning Tweeters are apparently not in on the joke and have alleged the account is part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Perhaps the most prominent point-misser is the controversial 'PropOrNot' — an anonymous organization with potential links to the NATO-funded Atlantic Council, which markets itself as a "resource for people who want to understand Russian influence operations," and "distinguish between propaganda and commercial "clickbait".

Established following the November 2016 US Presidential Election, PropOrNot offers a database of over 200 sites — running the ideological gamut from popular news aggregator Drudge Report to investigative resource Truthdig — it claims to be Kremlin propaganda outlets, which it argues should be deranked from Google and Facebook news feeds. Critics were quick to note that rather than flagging 'Russian propaganda', it merely sought to delegitimise and discredit alternative, non-mainstream news sources.

Whatever the truth of the matter, PropOrNot was adroit in noting Benoit Abedoux was a "fake analog" of Bana Alabed, a Syrian girl who briefly became a celebrated figure among adovcates of Western military intervention in the country, for tweets she allegedly posted documenting the siege of Aleppo.

Syrian Bana al-Abed is filmed by her mother as they prepare to post on Twitter in English about life in the besieged eastern districts of Syria's Aleppo, on October 12, 2016. - Sputnik International
Propaganda Assembly Line: Aleppo Twitter Girl Bana to Publish Her Memoir
The parody account certainly draws much inspiration from Alabed's social media activities, but beyond the mocking, a serious point lies — for the intentions and consequences of Alabed's time in the mainstream media spotlight were certainly serious in the extreme.

Junior War Propagandist

Alabed's Twitter account was registered September 24 2016, within days amassing a sizeable following and firing tweets at Assad, Putin, and US President Barack Obama, using hashtags such as #StandWithAleppo, #HolocaustAleppo, #MassacreInAleppo and #StopAleppoMassacre.

The seven-year-old quickly gained a prominent media profile — she was dubbed by more than one pundit the Syrian crisis' "Anne Frank", and invited on to major news networks to denounce Assad, the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian government.

Not all were quite so convinced, however. Critics were puzzled as to how a very young Arab girl in a city subject to frequent powercuts had acquired such an apparent mastery of the English language, and could tweet so frequently.

Moreover, even mainstream journalists were forced to acknowledge the girl's video statements were almost undoubtedly scripted, with The New Yorker suggesting Alabed was "being coached by her mother to communicate her thoughts in a language she is only beginning to learn".

Perhaps the most notorious demonstration of this tendency was the April 2017 interview Alabed conducted with CNN, in which the child struggled to sound out phrases she evidently didn't understand, frequently using complex phrases it's extremely unlikely any seven-year-old — even a native English speaker — would ever employ unless they'd been specifically trained and instructed to do so.

A less well known but even more compelling example of the "coached" nature of Alabed's statements was provided by an interview on Turkish TV, after she and her family fled Syria and not long before her CNN appearance. In the clip, the host asks the young girl what she likes to eat. Evidently not understanding the question and mistaking it for a pre-programmed cue, she responds with "save…save the children of Syria".

Concerns were also raised about the highly pro-interventionist nature of some of the tweets posted by Alabed — including an apparent endorsement of the prospect of World War III — most of which were deleted seemingly following her inking a book deal with publishing giant Simon & Schuster, after she signed up with talent and marketing agency The Blair Partnership.

The agency once represented JK Rowling, billionaire author of the Harry Potter series, and is headed by Neil Blair, who has strong pro-Israel sympathies and is on the board of the UK branch of the Abraham Fund, a group sponsored by Israeli bank Hapoalim, which finances the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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