The Saudi regime has a shameful record of deliberately restricting of freedoms on Twitter and attempting to direct as a useful and relatively harmless pressure relief valve to society.
What the regime did included investing in a variety of methods to control what Saudis see when they use the platform.
These ranges from difficult tactics, such as the arrest of prominent Twitter figures critical of the government or bringing them to trial, and simple efforts such as promoting positive tweets and marginalizing dissenting opinions.
“They can’t really block these sites from the server side, so they should have access to this space,” said Alexei Abrahams, research fellow at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. “If they inject enough resources, social media may become more Benefit to the respective system of opposition. I am not sure we have reached this stage yet, but it is not far away. ”
Abrahams explained that the Saudi regime sought to shape the Internet environment at its discretion, organized armies of Twitter accounts to promote pro-government content and attack opposition voices.
This is done through electronic flies. According to an investigation published in The New York Times last year, these could be automated accounts, known as Internet bots, or accounts run by people working for the Saudi government and using Twitter systematically.
By working together, these employees can promote accounts or hashtags praising Saudi Arabia’s leadership to weaken criticism, which will ultimately change the online content of Saudi citizens. “You can then make public opinion appear to be leaning toward the regime,” Abrahams said.
Saudi dissidents, many of whom reside abroad, use the Twitter platform to communicate their views to their citizens within the kingdom.
The opposition is made up of human rights activists who track arrests, and dissidents such as Omar Abdul Aziz, who lives in Canada and posts frequent videos of himself commenting on current events and criticizing Saudi politics.
The Saudi government tried to close these accounts. Abdul-Aziz says the authorities detained his brothers in the Kingdom to pressure him to silence him. He also sent royal court envoys to Canada to try to persuade him to return to the country and work for the government, but he refused.
The Kingdom has also tracked anonymous account holders, which seems to be why it is trying to recruit spies into Twitter.
Ali Zubara, one of two former Twitter employees charged this week by US federal prosecutors with espionage, had access to users’ personal information.
The other defendant, Ahmed Abu Amo, had access to users’ e-mail addresses and phone numbers, sensitive information that could help the government identify people who manage anonymous accounts on the platform.
The two employees quit their jobs on Twitter in 2015, and no further attempts were made to break through social networks.
The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who criticized the Saudi leadership, has drawn international attention to Saudi efforts to silence dissidents.
It seems that the kingdom is still working on cyberspace to promote its views. “There are still thousands of bots on Twitter,” says Abrahams.