A Saudi state-owned news channel has been mocked on social media after posting an unsubstantiated claim that the Qatar-owned British department store, Harrods, spies on customers from some Arab Gulf countries.
In a tweet posted on Thursday, al-Ekhbariya TV said the popular London-based store, known for its expensive designer collections, was targeting customers from the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
"Qatari Harrods is spying on its customers from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Bahrain, for mysterious reasons," read the tweet, which ended with the hashtag "Qatari Harrods spies on Khaleejis (Gulf citizens) ".
The post appeared without a link to an article or video report further explaining the claim, and there was no mention of the story on al-Ekhbariya’s website, as of Friday.
The story appears to stem from a report by the Saudi newspaper Okaz, which cites "reliable sources" for the claim that an internal memorandum required staff to store credit card purchases for customers from the three countries.
There is no confirmation about the claims from the store itself in the article, but instead what appears to be an automated letter from the Harrods recruitment team, which states the opening times for the company’s careers office.
|A screenshot of the Okaz website, which includes what appears to be an automated letter from the Harrods careers team [Al Jazeera]|
Al-Ekhbariya’s tweet drew a big response on Twitter, with more than a thousand replies to the original post, most of which were facetious or scornful of the report.
The hashtag accompanying the tweet was also flooded with cartoons and comments that mocked what many users considered fake news.
In one response a user called "Grandma Sarah" says "I swear I’m laughing", later adding "It breaks my heart, there are people intent on believing anything."
Another tweet jokingly says a giant teddy bear guarding the store’s entrance hides a camera and forwards personal details about customers to Qatari intelligence officials.
One user, named Nafoud Al Duhaim, says the chocolates he bought from Harrods contain a microscopic device that fits into people’s stomachs to spy on them.
However, not all users were convinced the reports were fake, with one Saudi account, a customer service official named Ali, asking those mocking the claim to provide evidence it was false.
"Prove what’s fake about the news," he demands, to which another accounts responds: "My brother Ali, as a customer service official, can you explain what type of spying on customers is possible in a store or cafe: can Harrods see how much coffee Khaleejis [Gulf citizens] drink!"
Ali retorts: "I as a Saudi believe what my media says, like you believe what your media says."
Harrods, which has not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, is the subject of a boycott campaign by pro-Saudi accounts on social media.
Earlier in the week, a hashtag called on Middle Eastern tourists to shun the outlet because it is owned by the Qatari government’s investment arm, the Qatar Investment Authority.
Qatar bought the department store from Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed for close to $2bn in May 2010.
The country also holds investments in other iconic London landmarks, including Heathrow airport, the Shard tower, and Canary Wharf.