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Twitter sued for allegedly helping to silence Saudi critics

Twitter's bleeding advertisers due to a spike in hate speech, according to a new report.

Twitter and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were sued by the sister of an activist who disappeared in 2018, alleging the social media network allowed the kingdom to target dissidents including her brother by allowing access to the company’s confidential data.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court, is a civil racketeering lawsuit stemming from a criminal case in which a former Twitter employee was convicted last year of spying for Saudi Arabia and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The Middle East country has targeted numerous dissidents by accessing Twitter’s data with help from its own employees, according to the lawsuit.

The kingdom was described in the complaint as the “Saudi Criminal Enterprise”, which used Twitter’s confidential user data to illegally spy on, kill, torture, disappear, extort and threaten perceived dissidents to “suppress speech globally and to export terror and repression into the world’s democracies”. The murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 is the most infamous example, according to Areej Al-Sadhan, who filed the suit.

Al-Sadhan, herself an activist against the KSA, testified in the US prosecution of former Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo. Though limited in what she could say during the trial, Al-Sadhan has for years campaigned to free her brother, Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, who she says was abducted by Saudi secret police in 2018 over his social media posts critical of the KSA and sentenced to 20 years in prison. She claims her brother has been tortured with sleep deprivation, electric shock and beatings that sent him to an intensive care unit.

The KSA’s enterprise violates the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in its pattern of accessing and using Twitter’s confidential data to threaten, imprison and kill dissidents, according to the complaint. Twitter is a defendant because its employees accessed and sent confidential account user data to the enterprise, the suit says.

“Twitter — which was once the chosen platform for Arab youth revolutionising to liberate their countries from despotic leadership during the Arab Spring — enabled its co-conspirators in the Saudi Criminal Enterprise to crush that very dissent, and then even permitted Defendant KSA to enjoy an equity stake in Defendant Twitter through its private investment funds,” Areej Al-Sadhan’s lawyers said in the suit.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking a response to the lawsuit.

The case is Al-Sadhan v Twitter, 23-cv-2369, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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