The Saudis don't need to buy Twitter to silence it

A Saudi prince and billionnaire, Alwaleed bin Talal, bought a $300m stake in Twitter. Twitter's been a useful service for protestors in the Middle East, which saw several dictatorial governments fall in quick succession over the last year.

This has led people to immediately suspect foul play; has the regime bought a chunk of Twitter to help prevent a Riyadh Spring?

A few thoughts:

• The Saudis don't need to own Twitter to block it. The county established one of the world's most draconian internet censorship regimes and can impose silence as it pleases. All international Internet traffic is routed through a single proxy farm and the government regularly blocks major western sites and services.

• The stake isn't likely to give Alwaleed significant influence over Twitter's operations. Though it's not clear how much of Twitter he owns, the stake is surely less than 5 percent, based on recent valuations. Machinations would soon be leaked to reporters. Blocks would be obvious as soon as they were implemented. In any case, Twitter (and with it the value of Alwaleed's stake) could be ruined if it is seen to be controlled by foreign tyrants.

• Alwaleed is a businessman first. His holdings are diverse and he is not reliant upon oil or other local interests for his wealth. He also invests heavily in high-tech, making Twitter an obvious addition to existing buys in companies such as Apple.


  1. “Saudi billionaire invests $300 in Twitter”

    Oh, how I wish this wasn’t a typo. That would be a much more entertaining story!

  2. It’s either a typo or the Saudi billionaire is making a comment on how little he thinks of Twitter’s capacity for actually making money.

  3. haha fixed! Would make a good Onion headline.


    Derek Ludnow, 42, of Arabi, Louisiana, announced Monday that he had invested $300 in Twitter following its recent IPO.


  4. My family has done a lot of business with Alwaleed bin Talal and gotten to know him as well as anyone can. He’s actually a pretty forward thinking guy for a Saudi prince. He’s a big advocate of woman’s rights (and hire’s a lot of woman which in saudi culture is a huge no no) and of freedom of speech. The hardliners tolerate him because he is stupid rich, but he is the last person that would be shutting down twitter or censoring it.

    1. “a pretty forward thinking guy for a Saudi prince.” Yeah he sounds like a real hero dissident. I guess he impresses his western business partners with his progressive ways (he actually hires women! can you imagine!) but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s part of an oppressive theocracy. He needs the hardliners as much as they need him.   

      1. If you dismiss the progressives, you doom the society to stay the way it is.  King Abdullah, for instance, just gave women the vote, against the will of the religious council that rules from behind the throne.  Why would you trash someone who’s doing something positive within a very hostile framework?

        1. He’s pushed for incremental changes within a hostile framework, but done nothing to change the framework itself. In fact, he’s benefited from it quite handsomely. Being a progressive in a difficult regime is one thing. It’s quite another to serve as the pretty face on oppression that keeps Western money rolling in by paying lip service to human rights and understanding. 
          It’s pure slave mentality to feel grateful for the  reforms that the benevolent king is making. Sorry if I’m a little underwhelmed by the news that a major US ally is planning on extending voting rights to women in 2015. It’s also hard to imagine that this policy is linked  to deeply held convictions. The King is “letting” women vote (and vote for what?)  as a direct response to the people’s uprising in the Arab Spring. Better that than violent revolution, or any real change in governance. And after the royal family has pumped millions and billions into fundamentalist Islamic social institutions, I wonder how many women are actually going to take advantage of the vote on the local level if their imams and husbands forbid it? And if they vote, will they be able to vote against the King in any significant way, or will it just be a matter of selecting from his vetted list of cronies? I guess we’ll see in four years, unless there’s some emergency that prevents elections from going forward. You never know for sure with matters of the state… but you trust that the King always knows best.   
          Change is only going to come from the streets.  The billionaires who have fattened themselves on the Saudi Kingdom are pulling the wool over your eyes. 

          1. Sorry if I’m a little underwhelmed by the news that a major US ally is planning on extending voting rights to women in 2015. It’s also hard to imagine that this policy is linked to deeply held convictions. The King is “letting” women vote (and vote for what?) as a direct response to the people’s uprising in the Arab Spring.

            Well, the facts of the last half-decade suggest that your interpretation is incorrect about King Abdullah. “The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which opened in September 2009, is Saudi Arabia’s first coeducational campus where men and women study alongside each other. Women are allowed to attend classes with men, may drive on campus, and are not required to veil themselves.”

            “Prior to 2008, women were not allowed to enter hotels and furnished apartments when unaccompanied by a mahram. With a 2008 Royal Decree, however, the only requirement needed to allow women to enter hotels are their national identification cards, and the hotel must inform the nearest police station of their room reservation and length of stay, which is the law there for men too”

            Etc., etc.

          1. Someone who’s doing something positive within a very hostile framework. Oh, you mean like Obama?

            It’s unfortunate that gay marriage isn’t yet legal at the federal level, but it’s good that DADT and sodomy laws are gone.

        1. What does this even mean?  No, I’m not a billionaire with deep ties to corrupt fundamentalist monarchs. 

          It actually doesn’t help your criticisms of the US to overstate the case. There are plenty of problems here, but it’s not Saudi Arabia. 

  5. How many Saudi princes are there? 4K or so? 30K or so members of the House of Saud? “Prince” barely means “insider” there.

  6. That comment that “he’s a businessman first”made me wonder – did Twitter find a business model?

    1. Starla!  The new Twitter business model.  Claims to have had an on again / off again thing with Quincy Jones.

  7. The “corrected” headline suggests that $300 million gives this investor veto power over Twitter’s activities.  Any foundation for that?  Last I heard Twitter’s market cap was over 7 billion, making this a minority shareholder.     

  8. I shouldn’t be surprised if it’s a business decision first, but. First, that kind of purchase tends to come with a voice on the board of directors, so that saud-friendly policies will at least get an airing (that’s what he almost certainly got with the News Corp buy — not control of policy, but a guarantee that any editor/publisher there will take his calls in a friendly fashion). Second, the more that activists and potential activists get the idea that one of their media of expression is controlled by the adversary, the less they’ll use it or believe things they read. Win.

  9. Stu- Read it. Thanks. That’s what I get for trying to read and post 3 minutes before my class enters the room. Manny- yes there are plenty of “princes” in Saudi Arabia, but Alwaleed bin Talal is the nephew to the king, and is known as “The Warren Buffet of Arabia.” So he certainly does fit the definition of “insider.” Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is very much a class-based society. Carrying the title of prince carries privilege and clout that a person wouldn’t have without it.

  10. “French monarchy announces major investment in obscure medical supply company; ‘Guillotine S.A.S.’ up 300%”

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