By Daniel Shane
Billionaire slams reported plans by Saudi authorities to monitor social media usage
Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has warned authorities in the Gulf kingdom over reported plans to block social media websites.
In a post on his Twitter account, the Arab world’s richest businessman described any move by the Saudi Telecommunications Authority to filter such sites as a "losing war".
"Dear Saudi Telecommunication Authority, social media is a tool for the people to make the government hear their voices. Just thinking of blocking them is a losing war, and a way to put more pressure on the citizens," the prince, who is worth approximately $25bn, wrote.
Alwaleed’s comments follow on from reports earlier this year that the Saudi government could require Twitter users to register with authorities so that they may be identified. Alwaleed in 2011 paid $300m to acquire a stake in Twitter via Kingdom Holding, a Riyadh-based investment firm he controls 95 percent of.
A newspaper report earlier this year also indicated that telecommunications operators had been instructed to examine ways in which they could monitor usage of the Skype and WhatsApp messaging services.
Security forces in Saudi Arabia have in the last 18 months arrested a number of Twitter users over comments deemed critical of Islam or the government. The kingdom’s highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah earlier in 2013 described Twitter users as “clowns”.
Internet services in Saudi Arabia are highly restricted, with access to material deemed pornographic or offensive routinely blocked by service providers.