Snapchat Users In Saudi Arabia Exploit The US Messaging App To Promote The Image Of Its Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia has been exploiting the US messaging app Snapchat to promote the image of its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman while imposing excessively harsh and severe sentences on influencers who use the platform to post even mild criticism of the future king.
The Snapchat platform, which allows users to share photos, messages, and videos that disappear after being viewed, is so popular that one senior Snap Inc executive recently called it an "extension of the social fabric."
One of the company's largest single investors is Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who invested a whopping amount of $250m into the company in 2018.
The California-based company, which recently agreed to a "collaboration" with the Saudi culture ministry last year, has more than 20 million users in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia ranked the app's World's Top Users (WTU), including an estimated 90% of 13-to-34-year-olds. The crown prince has also met personally with some of the platform's biggest "Snapchatters" for informal talks about current events, according to people familiar with the encounters.
Many subscribers and close watchers of Saudi-based verified accounts report that many influencers use the platform to promote Bin Salman's image, influencers constantly and uniformly share any new photographs of the prince or other video content to promote him.
Critics, dissidents, and human rights experts say the platform is forcefully used to subdue and extend operations across national boundaries. Populace spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect references in the kingdom and spoke about how Saudi security services closely monitor posts on Snapchat.
The 2022 human rights US state department's report further supports the concerns, which confirmed that Saudi authorities "regularly surveilled blogs, websites, chat rooms, emails, text messages, and social media sites."
The state department also said that the Saudi government harasses individuals using automated social media accounts to ensure that messages that fawn about government activities dominate social media trend lists and "effectively silence dissenting voices."
According to a knowledgeable source, security services have questioned non-political influencers for not posting enough positive content about the crown prince. These interactions may include threats of withholding government-approved licenses, crucial for influencers to earn money on the platform. Dissidents believe this is yet another way for the government to control social media usage in the kingdom.
Mansour Al-Raqiba, one Saudi Snapchat influencer who was arrested in May 2022 in connection to social media posts, has more than 2 million followers, and he acknowledged to have been blackmailed by an individual who claimed that they heard him criticizing Bin Salman's Vision on 2030 economic plan. A person familiar with the case said that Raqiba was sentenced to 27 years in imprisonment.
A Snapchat spokesman reported that the company was "committed to protecting the safety and self-expression of Snapchatters around the world."
However, the spokesperson did not supply any specific comment about the imprisonment of users in Saudi Arabia or if the issue had already been discussed by the company's board of directors, including Evan, the CEO and founder.