Omar Abdulaziz is only one person, but his story offers a way to better understand 9.9 million more. That’s the number of Saudis on Twitter, a platform that has been at the center of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to stamp out dissent and promote the misleading story that it’s doing just the opposite.
Abdulaziz wrote in The Post this week that more than 30 Saudi citizens influential on the social media site told him they were blackmailed with material gained from hacking their phones – just as Abdulaziz’s own phone was breached using spyware sold by the Israeli company NSO Group. These efforts were payback not only for speaking out against the regime generally but also for speaking out against the regime on Twitter in particular. Of the three most influential Saudis on Twitter, Abdulaziz wrote, one has been arrested, a second has disappeared, and he is in exile.
The ultimate aim of the blackmail Abdulaziz identifies was focused on the platform once again. The targets were ordered to tweet propaganda, or else the government would release their private communications and pictures. Complying would align them with the virtual army assembled by Saud al-Qahtani, the former royal court adviser known by activists as the “minister of flies.” Abdulaziz had been amassing a counterforce called the “electronic bees” with the aid of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, when he learned regime officials had discovered their attempt, wrote to Abdulaziz: “God help us.” He was murdered by the regime two months later. Read more