Even though social media enjoys a restricted presence in Saudi Arabia, its new King’s Twitter profile is gaining in popularity
The Twitter profile of the new king of Saudi Arabia is among the fastest growing across the world in terms of the number of followers, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal by Rory Jones and Ahmed Al Omran. This comes as a surprise as Saudi Arabia exercises tight control over information to counter the sharp rise in the popularity of social media.
Twitter popular among Saudis
In the past week alone, more than half a million followers were added to King Salman’s Twitter account. A social media research company, Social Bakers, stated that the number of followers added by King Salman was more than the number gained by popular American singer Taylor Swift and President Barack Obama. His first tweet received more than 240,000 retweets.
“I ask God to help me to serve our people and achieve their aspirations, and to preserve our country and our nation’s security and stability, and to protect it from all evil and harm,” the tweet read.
Google claims that Saudis are the biggest watchers of YouTube, and clips of the funeral of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud have received millions of views since Friday. Also in the Arab world, Twitter is much used by Saudis, and according to Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government research center, they account for 40% of tweets. On Facebook, around 30% of the Saudi population is active, says the social media company.
Limiting freedom of expression
Freedom of expression is very limited in many countries, and the Saudi Kingdom is among the most conservative ones. On social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, ideas flow freely, which is what authorities don’t like. However, the platforms are used by officials to convey their message to citizens and the world. The head of policy for Middle East and North Africa at Facebook, Ashraf Zeitoon, believes that the governments are facing the challenge of coming to terms with social media.
To counter the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, initially authorities censored unwanted content, but soon they realized the ineffectiveness of such measures as people easily bypass restrictions to access the sites. However, now authorities have resorted to legal means to control expression, which is evident from the increasing number of prosecutions over the content posted on Twitter and Facebook by citizens.