In a pre-emptive move to ease tensions over the rise of social media, the Saudi government has announced it may block access to Skype (News - Alert) and other social media applications unless it can monitor some online conversations.
New reports from the Mideast say the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission made the threat over the weekend in the face of government discomfort over the rising use of social media among the nation’s inhabitants, especially its young people. The move comes as the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings continue to roil the region, most notably in Syria where government forces has been battling democracy-seeking insurgents for two years. But reaction to the Saudi reports was swift and sharp in some quarters.
“A bunch of stupid old men,” Dow Jones says one Twitter (News - Alert) user identified as Rana al Mohsen posted. “If you block one app, another comes up.”
While news out of the region has been mixed, it’s obvious the Saudis are concerned enough about the rapid rise in Internet-based services to take some action. The Skype move comes after a Saturday report from unidentified officials indicating that the country is also considering a rule requiring Twitter users to supply their national ID numbers.
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Saudi Arabia is listed by advocacy group “Reporters Without Borders” as one of 13 “Internet Enemy” countries because of its restrictive online policies, charging the country “…does not hide its online censorship.” Dow Jones reports that earlier this year that Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, the nation’s highest religious authority, referred to some Twitter users as “clowns” after they criticized Saudi authorities.Matthew Reed, a principal analyst with Informa (News - Alert) Telecoms and Media in Dubai, told MarketWatch, “You certainly get a feeling that there’s a crackdown in the offing.” But Reed noted that while other countries in the region have tried to block the use of Skype, “These things have become so …widely adopted and so popular in the region it would be quite difficult to block them.”