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News code: 26454
Published Date: Sunday 21 October 2018 - 15:38:58
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NYT: Saudi Arabia uses Twitter trolls to silence critics

NYT: Saudi Arabia uses Twitter trolls to silence critics
World  - A New York Times report on Saturday noted that Saudi authorities were making use of an "army of Twitter trolls" to silence critics, including journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A new report has shown that Riyadh was enjoying the services of a stooge among the ranks of Twitter to spy on accounts of people who were critical of the kingdom.

The report published in The New York Times showed that Riyadh had groomed a Twitter employee, identified as Ali al Zabarah, to tap into dissident accounts until December 2015 when the American social media giant decided to fire the staffer.

The report said that Twitter had been told of the secret operation involving the insider and the Saudi government by certain Western officials. However, it added that Twitter officials could never find evidences supporting the claims.

Twitter also refused to say anything when asked for further comments on the NYT report, which also claimed that the Saudi royal family had hired hundreds of people on major social media networks to have the image of the kingdom improved.

The revelations come amid a scandal on the disappearance and death of a prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in early October.

A key figure behind Khashoggi's death was Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who was fired by the Saudi royal court on Friday. Qahtani is believed to have engineered a wide range of secret operations to flood the social media with pro-Saudi messaging and smother the voices of dissenters.

Several American and Saudi officials have revealed to the daily that Qahtani had mobilized operatives to harass dissenters on Twitter since 2010, when popular movements in the Arab world led to the ouster of several autocratic regimes.

The Saudi government reportedly offered through an employer a sum of about $3,000 to every young man who was willing to tweet in favor of the Kingdom. That was revealed after specialists invited to interviews found about the political nature of the job.

Khashoggi, known for his criticism of Saudi Arabia's policies, went missing on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage document. Ankara has accused Riyadh of murdering the Khashoggi and smuggling his body out of the consulate in pieces. Saudi Arabia first denied the charges as "baseless", stressing that the journalist left the consulate shortly after he arrived, without providing any evidence. But, after two weeks of denial by Saudi officials, Riyadh confessed that Khashoggi had been murdered by its security agents at the Istanbul consulate, but made no mention of where his body is.

US intelligence has also revealed that the the Saudi crown prince ordered an operation to detain Khashoggi after luring him back to Saudi Arabia, according to The Washington Post. US officials speaking on the condition of anonymity have told The Washington Post that MbS and other Saudi officials tried to get Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia, where he is from, with offers of government employment and protection.

Also, US intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced that the Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince played a role in Khashoggi's disappearance in early October, according to a report.

Citing unidentified officials, The New York Times reported that information leaked to the public - names and photos of 15 Saudis who travelled to Istanbul on October 2 as well as claims Turkey possesses audio recordings of Khashoggi's death - is helping convince the US intelligence community that the crown prince was involved.

 

News Code: 26454
Published Date: Sunday 21 October 2018 - 15:38:58
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