In Saudi Arabia, where a relatively closed culture leaves citizens few public forums to discuss news and politics, Twitter has become a kind of town square, the place where citizens meet to swap information and debate the latest issues.
Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy has not banned the site, but it has taken extensive measures to shape the information that appears there and to silence or drown out dissidents who use it to post critical views.
The Justice Department’s indictment on Wednesday of two former Twitter employees accused of spying for Saudi Arabia cast rare light on one corner of the vast measures the kingdom has taken to shape what its citizens see when they go online.
Saudi Arabia provides no public spaces where citizens can gather to discuss news and politics. And the kingdom’s news media are state-owned or controlled, limiting the range of perspectives they carry.
But many Saudi citizens have multiple cellphones and fast internet, which have led them to use Twitter to engage both with the world and with their fellow citizens.
That has given the kingdom one of the world’s largest Twitterspheres.
According to one recent report, Saudi Arabia had 9.9 million active Twitter users, the fourth highest in the world, behind the United States, Britain and Japan. But in terms of the percentage of the population using the platform, Saudi Arabia was first, with 37 percent of residents doing so, compared with 18 percent in the United States. [Continue reading…]