Saudi Arabia reportedly groomed a Twitter employee to help it spy on dissenters.
The Saudi Arabian government enlisted a Twitter army to silence its critics online. It groomed a Twitter employee in the United States to try to get him to spy on certain accounts. And an American-based consultancy company helped the government identify and target dissidents on Twitter who were later punished and silenced.
Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard, and Mike Isaac at the New York Times on Saturday detailed the efforts of the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to quiet dissenters in the country and around the world. The report lands amid increased scrutiny on the Saudis and MBS over the disappearance and murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The report reveals the dangers for American tech companies, which have until recently single-mindedly focused on growth. Like Facebook, Twitter is beginning to see the downsides of a completely open platform — particularly when it intersects with authoritarian regimes.
The Times report details how the Saudi government has been manipulating the power of Twitter
According to the Times, Saudi operatives have “mobilized to harass critics on Twitter” to keep them from speaking out. They’ve employed a number of tactics, including swarming critics with memes, creating distractions from relevant conversations, and reporting content they don’t want seen to Twitter as “sensitive.” The government has created its Twitter army by paying young men about 10,000 Saudi riyals, or $3,000, a month to tweet.
One of the most disturbing parts of the Times’ story is its account of how the Saudis identified