Twitter accounts with thousands, and some with hundreds of thousands, of followers circulate a fake post asking World Cup tourists to abide by a certain moral guideline.
Search for Qatar on Twitter, the results driven by algorithms will show you a post amplified by several verified accounts with thousands of followers calling for tourists to observe a set of rules such as abstaining from drinking “alcohol” or indulging in “profanity, dating, immodesty”.
The Qatari government was quick to deny imposing any such rules, describing the post as “fake news”. And yet, many influencers on the platform continued to amplify it.
“The ‘Qatar Welcomes You’ graphic circulating on social media is not from an official source and contains factually incorrect information,” the statement said. “We strongly urge fans and visitors to rely solely on official sources from tournament organisers for travel advice.”
The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and the football’s global governing body, FIFA, is also expected to issue a fan guide, which the press statement says will dispute “a lot of the information being circulated”.
In the case of Qatar, a country that will see the start of the tournament next month, such disinformation campaigns affect its perception of being a worthy host. Since the country was awarded the bid, it has seen one controversy after another building up, with an unprecedented scrutiny over its operations to manage the World Cup.
Search for Qatar on Twitter. What's your top result? Mine is false and misleading content. Algorithms doing their thing. pic.twitter.com/I9t4cMSoby— Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) October 7, 2022
This is not the first time Qatar has been targeted through an online disinformation campaign.
Five years ago, in 2017, a fake news appeared on a website that resembled a credible Swiss publication, claiming six Arab countries had called on FIFA to strip the tiny Gulf nation of the World Cup.
The story received wide coverage from some major news outlets across the world.
Qatari authorities further say they have been clear since the outset that “everyone is welcome to visit Qatar and enjoy the World Cup”.
“Qatar has always been an open, tolerant, and welcoming nation. International fans and visitors during the World Cup will get to experience this first hand.”