Viber in Saudi Arabia: The politics of social media and communication

Flag ~ Saudi Arabia

Flag ~ Saudi Arabia (Photo credit: erjkprunczyk)

Change is clearly happening in Saudi Arabia. In the past authorities have sought to try people who use social media, to object to government authority, quietly and under the radar of the population as a whole.  However, over the past few months these trials are being conducted more widely and in the open.  First thoughts should be that this is excellent news for the judicial system, and a commitment to openness.  However, these trials should be seen more as a deterrent – more like public beheadings than a commitment to opening the political system.  They are a demonstration of how worried Saudi authorities are about the Arab Spring.

It is in the same light that Viber, the communications app (covered in the last edition of IST), has been blocked by Saudi authorities (it has also been blocked in Iran and the UAE). Viber are now attempting to restore at least a partial service, within weeks, to their 10 million Saudi users. The benefits of viber are that it offers a private communication system in an authoritarian state.  But, its closure marks another line in the sand put down by the Saudi’s that want access to their populations communications systems. Something that it appears the US and UK enjoy through the PRISM system. As the new politics of communications unfolds, in the era of Big Data, it appears that the tension lines are between a triad of Liberty, Privacy & Security.  That is the debate in the Middle East as well as in the US and Europe.

English: Tomb of Muhammad in Madinah, Saudi Arabia

English: Tomb of Muhammad in Madinah, Saudi Arabia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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