Former Twitter exec warns Saudi dissidents to quit platform after Elon Musk takeover

Former Twitter exec warns Saudi dissidents to quit platform after Elon Musk takeover
2 min read
08 November, 2022
A former global news chief at Twitter said Saudi dissidents who use the platform could be in danger of having their personal details handed to Riyadh.
Saudi dissidents have been warned to leave Twitter by a former executive [Getty-file photo]

A former senior Twitter executive has cautioned Saudi dissidents against using the platform due to Saudi Arabia's prominent role in the newly organised company under Elon Musk.

Prince Al Waleed bin Talal is Twitter's second-largest shareholder after Musk, as his Kingdom Holdings Company has invested $1.89 billion investment in the social media platform.

He has close ties to the Saudi government and was a public ally of de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, after he was detained in a so-called corruption crackdown in 2017 led by the new crown prince. 

"For dissidents or others who are operating anonymously, I would probably caution them about their continued use of Twitter," Vivian Schiller, who was Twitter’s global news chief from 2013 to 2014, said in an interview on the Yahoo News 'Skullduggery' podcast. 

Such users should "take a look at the kind of information they provided [to Twitter] — cell phone numbers, etc. — when they logged in, and maybe quit the platform", she added. 

Live Story

Saudi Arabia has a record of cracking down on journalists, dissidents, and activists in the kingdom, imprisoning them for years or even decades for as little as a critical tweet.

Earlier this year, mother-of-five Noura al-Qahtani was handed a 45-year jail term for "spreading lies through tweets" and other alleged offences, according to court documents. 

The personal data of Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based Saudi exile who had been in frequent contact with Jamal Khashoggi, was allegedly stolen through Twitter by Saudi hackers. It was later allegedly used by the Saudis to track down Khashoggi and brutally murder him in 2018, according to Abdulaziz's lawyer. 

In August a former Twitter employee in the US was found guilty of spying on Saudi dissidents and passing on personal details to Riyadh.

Live Story

It is unclear if Waleed bin Talal has a direct operational role at Twitter. However, US lawmakers have expressed concerns about the Saudi government's influence over the platform. 

"I've long argued that the United States has a national security interest in protecting Americans' data from murderous foreign governments, and this Saudi regime absolutely fits that description,"  Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon was quoted as saying by Yahoo News

The New Arab has reached out to Twitter and Kingdom Holdings for comment.