Twitter users have accused GEMS Education of creating and using fake user accounts to promote a false positive image, calling on Dubai’s education watchdog to curtail what they suggest is a propagandistic press campaign.

In a tweet published on 17 April, a user named Moe Aamer shared screenshots of what he said was a “small sample of recently created fake accounts to tweet positively” about the United Arab Emirates’ largest for-profit school operator.

The accusation followed a weeks-long spat between parents of children enrolled at schools owned by GEMS and the group over its unwillingness to offer outright discounts on tuition fees at a time when a turbulent economy ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic has led to widespread job and income losses.

Aamer’s tweet went on to say: “@KHDA we need your support to #HelpGEMSParents.” KHDA refers to Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the emirate’s education regulator, which recommended that schools offer discounts where possible but stopped short of ordering them reduce fees. 

In another tweet, Aamer shared a screenshot of a condition pertaining to GEMS’ new relief fund, which was rolled out this week to provide financially stricken families with discounts after more than 15,000 parents signed a petition calling for fee cuts. He said: “Wow @GEMS_ME. The discount is for three days. Failure to pay it, discount will be withdrawn. It’s like take it or leave it. @KHDA please do something! I hate how this practice pressure (sic) and how irresponsible they are in their communication #HelpGemsParents.”

A screenshot accompanying the tweet shows an excerpt of what is thought to be a letter from GEMS to parents regarding the fund. It reads: “To avail your relief package, you must pay the balance of the discounted tuition fees within three working days from today. Failure to comply will result in the relief discount being withdrawn.”

According to GEMS, more than 20,000 students’ fees will be covered by the relief package, which in some cases will provide discounts of 50% or more – but only if parents can provide documents evidencing that their finances have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.

An account using the handle @DubaiNameShame, which is accompanied by a blue tick, tweeted on 17 April: “Amazing how the new PR directive from @GEMS_ME has suddenly ignited Twitter accounts set up in April 2020, account have rarely tweet (sic) and accounts from Gems teachers and staff!”

Another user replied to the tweet, saying: “Gosh Twitter is overrun in the last few seconds with a load of positive GEMS tweets. The bots have woken or instructed?”

The new accusations risk further intensifying relations between GEMS and its students’ parents, many of whom were incensed earlier this week after they received a “threatening” email from the organisation in which it said students would be pulled from online classes if tuition fees were not paid. GEMS said in the email: “This is a final reminder to settle your child’s school fees. If payment has not been received by 12 PM on Tuesday, 21st April 2020, then we have no choice but to remove your child from access to our remote learning programme from Wednesday, April 22.”

A sector advisor based in the UAE based in the UK told this publication: “It’s terrible. They [GEMS] are getting killed.”

The feud between GEMS and parent cohorts came just days after it was revealed that the company’s founder, Sunny Varkey, was in discussions with bankers from Rothschild to sell off part of his majority stake in the business to raise up to $200 million.

Founded in 1959, GEMS operates more than 70 schools worldwide. It was valued at between $4 billion and $5 billion when CVC Capital Partners took a 30% stake in the group for $1 billion last year.

GEMS could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.