26 May 2015

The New York Times: “Young Saudis find Freedom on their Phones”

Saudi Arabia has ideal conditions for a social media boom: speedy Internet, disposable income and a youthful population with few social options. Unlike China and Iran, Saudi Arabia has not blocked sites like Facebook and Twitter, although it occasionally prosecutes those seen as insulting public figures or Islam. The Saudi monarchy appears to have decided that the benefits of social media as an outlet for young people outweigh the risk that it will be used to mobilize political opposition, which it is quick to punish, harshly.

Ben Hubbard

There’s no doubt that social networking and smartphones have improved numerous lives and enabled new types of business, but that’s a long way away from freedom. In this context, (mostly!) unrestricted access to social media is a distraction for the masses, a concession the government uses to divert attention from their conservative society and social issues.

This is my identity, she said, waving her phone. I don’t know how people survived 10 years ago without it.

But she uses her real name on just one private account, she said, because she feels she can speak freely only when anonymous.

Saudi men leaving mosque in Riyadh
Saudi men leaving a mosque in Riyadh after one of the five daily Muslim prayers. There are apps that issue a call to prayer on smartphones.

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