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Twitter in Saudi Arabia

Twitter in Saudi Arabia

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28

In October 2007, the famous American Time magazine published on its cover a headline describing Twitter as a “dubious” revolution. Inside the issue, the editor-in-chief dedicated a full-page editorial to discussing the tech giant’s impact on the world of communication and politics. Time magazine was right. Twitter really did change communications from end to end. It not only transformed the digital world but also had a real impact on our culture, education, and economy. Most notably, the so-called Twitter “revolution” didn’t skip the Arab world. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been charting the way in terms of active users on social media networks such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The past few months have seen a remarkable explosion in new users making use of these platforms in Saudi Arabia. According to Twitter, the number of platform users in Saudi Arabia increased from 11 million in 2019 to 14 million in 2020. Saudis use Twitter to discuss current events, gather insight on public opinion, and publish breaking news. On Twitter, they found the freedom to express themselves without restriction and censorship; a far cry from what they are used to with the traditional media. Interestingly, the Saudi people also used Twitter to rally around the flag and defend their homeland. When foreign accounts published fake news about their county, Saudi Twitter users formed a virtual army and defended the king and the crown prince. Instead of using guns and ammunition, they attacked the virtual enemy with hashtags and posts. It is around the same time that rumors began spreading around the kingdom that Twitter was allegedly discriminating against Saudi users, including through unexplainable account suspensions and closures. Are Twitter’s algorithms biased against certain groups? Or is it the neutral platform it claims to be? And what is the responsibility of our authorities to investigate this and take action, if necessary? These are difficult questions that will become increasingly more important in months to come, as Twitter becomes an ever-growing outlet from which the Saudi people consume their news. –Muhammad Al-Masoudi (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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