Saudi supporters called for an Amazon boycott on Thursday, angered by the accusations that their crown prince had hacked Jeff Bezos’s phone.
U.N. human-rights experts linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday to the hacking of a phone belonging to the Amazon
founder and Washington Post owner, a move that may have been an attempt to “influence, if not silence” the newspaper’s reporting on the kingdom. The tech billionaire’s phone was likely compromised after Bezos received an MP4 video file sent from the crown prince’s WhatsApp account. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, Inc.
The Saudi Embassy has called the allegations “absurd,” and called for an investigation of the claims against its crown prince.
Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan echoed the sentiment on Wednesday, telling Reuters that “the idea that the crown prince would hack Jeff Bezos’ phone is absolutely silly.”
Now supporters of the Saudi government and Mohammed bin Salman are threatening to hit Amazon’s bottom line. The Arabic hashtag for “Boycott Amazon Products” was the top trending topic in Saudi Arabia on Thursday morning, outlets including The Telegraph and Business Insider first reported.
It was not clear whether this was a coordinated move by the Saudi government, or actual fury expressed by ordinary Saudi consumers, as the hashtag was started by an anonymous, pro-government account with 60,000 followers called “MBS_MBSKSA,” which was trending at number one in Saudi Arabia as of 6 a.m. EST. Twitter
later suspended the account.
Bots may have also been driving the surge of anti-Amazon tweets in the Middle East, as disinformation analyst Ben Nimmo noted that just 50 accounts had posted 1,400 of the tweets using the hashtag. And many of those accounts showed suspicious activity, such as tweeting around the clock seven days a week, or almost exclusively retweeting, rather than writing original posts.
Many of the calls to boycott the tech company were rooted in patriotism. “Stopping dealing with Amazon is a national duty and should not be tolerated,” wrote one person under the Twitter account @easternsword1.
“It must be boycotted and all those who want to harm Saudi Arabia and its leaders must be cut off,” added another.
Other people posted images and video that suggested they were deleting their Amazon apps from their phones, or canceling their accounts.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment.
“Boycott Amazon” also trended on Twitter in Saudi Arabia last November, in retaliation for the Washington Post’s coverage of the killing of its journalist and Saudi royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi.
The crown prince drew international condemnation for the killing because several Saudi agents involved worked directly for him, although the kingdom has denied that he had any involvement or knowledge of the operation. A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for Khashoggi’s murder last month.