In light of the recent death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of men inside the Suadi Arabian consulate in Turkey, some of the more nefarious actions of the country are coming to light.
More specifically a report from the New York Times (paywall) alleges that operatives from the Saudi Arabian government were “grooming” a Twitter employee to spy on specific user accounts.
This is of pertinence to Khashoggi, as he was attacked on social media several times before his gruesome execution.
“He [Khashoggi] would see the work of an army of Twitter trolls, ordered to attack him and other influential Saudis who had criticized the kingdom’s leaders. He sometimes took the attacks personally, so friends made a point of calling frequently to check on his mental state,” explains the report.
The accounts in question are said to belong to users who spoke out about the Saudi government or had views that opposed that of the country’s regime.
It’s important to note that the report never mentions whether Khashoggi was one of the user accounts that the Twitter employee was monitoring, but did say that the journalist was subject to online abuse from troll farms setup by the Saudi government in order to intimidate and harass critics.
The Twitter employee in question is Ali Alzabarah, who was hired by the social media company at the beginning of 2013 as an engineer. Shortly thereafter he was reportedly convinced by Saudi intelligence officials to monitor several user accounts.
When Twitter was notified about Alzabarah’s alleged grooming, they placed him on administrative leave while the company conducted an internal investigation of their own. Twitter says that they found no evidence that Alzabarah was indeed reporting on user accounts to the Saudi government, but decided to let him go at the end of 2015.
These reports of Alzabarah’s supposed actions are only coming out now, so it remains to be seen what has transpired between then and now.
With social media like Facebook and Twitter now being used as a tool by state-sponsored agents to sow seeds of dissent and unfairly influence political outcomes, it’s becoming more important than ever that these companies take a stronger position when it comes to policing their platforms.[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]