‘Uniquely Captive Audience’

Matt Smith reports for Reuters:

The restrictions on Saudi society, where morality police patrol public spaces to enforce approved modes of behavior, has created a uniquely captive audience for web-based news and entertainment, media experts say.

With a population of 28.3 million, Saudi Arabia is now the biggest user of YouTube per capita in the world, and according to analysts Semiocast was the eighth most active country on Twitter as of April, accounting for 2.33 percent of all tweets.

Shoura Member Asks Police to Monitor Twitter

Issa al-Ghaith:

“With the increasing use of modern means of communication and social networking, some people make personal insults and false accusations against others and spread lies about them through the Internet and online forums. Hence, there is need for the police to allocate a website that will receive reports and complaints from victims.”

Not that Al-Ghaith, former judge and current member of the advisory Shoura Council, has been waiting for such website to sue people who attack him on Twitter. Last March he threatened to sue a conservative writer who posted critical tweets of him, and in April he filed a lawsuit against popular cleric Mohammed al-Arefi after he retweeted a poem that al-Ghaith deemed defamatory.

Riyadh Literary Club Offers Course on Tweeting

Saudi Gazette reports:

The Riyadh Literary Club recently organized a course on Twitter etiquette to improve the tweeting skills of Saudis and introduce them to the do’s and don’ts of this important social networking site, a local daily reported Monday.

Fifty participants attended the two-day course titled “Tweeting: Art and Skill”. Dr. Abdullah al-Haidary, chairman of the board of directors of the club and course instructor said, adding the course aims to remind participants of the influence of words.

The chairman said “spreading tweets that are against the country’s best interests” is an example of Twitter abuse.

Saudi Man Sentenced to Flogging for Insulting Tribe on Twitter

A Saudi court sentenced a man to 50 lashes for publishing insulting tweets against his own tribe, the daily al-Watan reported Friday.

The newspaper said that a group of people from a village near Medina complained at the local police station that the 30-year-old man has used social media site Twitter to write insults against their tribe, producing screenshots from the site as evidence against him. The tribesman reportedly asked the police to ban him from harming them, stop his insults and punish him for what he did.

The man said the statements that provoked his relatives came in a reply to a columnist on Twitter and that he did not intend to offend anyone from his village. But the judge considered what the man did as a “criminal act that damages the bonds of cohesion and disturbs tribal peace,” the newspaper said.

The court found him guilty of breaking the Anti e-Crimes Act and sentenced him to 50 lashes. He was also ordered to sign a pledge not to repeat the offense.

With the the government imposing many restrictions on free speech in mainstream media, social media has offered popular online outlets for Saudis to express themselves and talk about their issues. It is estimated that there are 4 million active users of Twitter in the country posting more than 50 million tweets per month.

Photo courtesy of Acid Pix via Flickr

Saudi Arabia Asked for Information of Twitter Users, Company’s Report Shows

Twitter said on Wednesday that the Saudi government made fewer than 10 requests for information about users of the social network during the first six months of this year.

The company did not disclose details of those requests, but its Transparency Report said they are “typically in connection with criminal investigations or cases.” The report shows that Twitter did not produce information related to any of these requests.

“An important conversation has begun about the extent to which companies should be allowed to publish information regarding national security requests,” Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of legal policy, wrote on the company’s blog.

Kessler said while Twitter “may not be allowed to provide notice to users in all situations or win every fight we take up on behalf of our users,” they plan to remain committed to being transparent about government requests they receive and how they have addressed them.

Photo courtesy of Scott Beale via Flickr

Paradigm Shift

Fahad Nazer:

The government’s efforts to diversify the economy, create jobs, and replace the estimated nine million expatriates with Saudis could very well pay dividends and help ameliorate some of the hardships about which an an increasing number of Saudis are complaining. However, being the world’s biggest, single repository of crude oil — and the birthplace of Islam — does not guarantee a Utopian existence in which the public sector operates like clockwork, government planners are all visionaries, and for-profit enterprises “answer to a higher source.”

Nevertheless, Saudi leaders need to stress that while they might have been thought of as “shepherds” looking after a “flock” when the “ruling bargain” between them and the people was first struck, it might be instructive to think of them now as mere “custodians” of the county with the people at large in the driver’s seat. It is not a coincidence that “the people are our greatest asset” has become a mantra of sorts among Saudi officials. This message will have to be amplified and repeated.

Conservative Writer Calls for Molesting Women Cashiers

A Saudi writer has urged his Twitter followers to sexually molest women hired to work as cashiers in big grocery stores, the latest backlash from conservatives who want to roll back limited social and economic reforms launched in the world’s leading oil exporter.

Abdullah Mohamed al-Dawood, who writes self-help books including one called The Joy of Life, has stirred fierce debate this week via the internet microblogging service with the use of the hashtag #harass-female-cashiers, to press for Saudi women to be forced to stay at home to protect their chastity.

Al-Dawood is the same conservative writer who has previously sparked another controversy when he said that baby girls should be fully covered using the face veil to protect them from sexual molestation.