The early, revolutionary promise of social media as a platform for information and opinion long ago ran smack into the hard realities of power and commerce. Authoritarian governments co-opted the new platforms and the businesses operating them.
In the latest instance of compromise, Snap Inc. has blocked Al Jazeera’s Discover Publisher Channel from its Discover network in Saudi Arabia, following an official order from the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission.
The Saudi regime claims that Al Jazeera’s Arab-language Discover Publisher Channel, launched in May, violated its local laws by stirring up dissent and acting to the detriment of the kingdom on behalf of foreign interests.
It is widely known that Saudi Arabia, along with its regional allies, including Egypt and the Gulf states, strongly objects to Al Jazeera’s muckraking and ideological support for Islamist movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and several Gulf states have also blocked access to Al Jazeera’s Web sites.
This summer, Al Jazeera became one of the focal points of an ongoing diplomatic conflict between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar, the small Persian Gulf nation which plays host to the news network.
The Saudi-led coalition also accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it conflates with Al Jazeera’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has severed diplomatic relations, as well as imposing economic sanctions on the tiny emirate.
Snapchat has around 8 million followers in Saudi Arabia, and faces the loss of access to the wealthy kingdom, with its large population of young people, if it runs afoul of the Saudi government.
Al Jazeera protested the removal with an official statement: “Al Jazeera Media Network expresses its dismay at Snapchat’s decision to block its Discover channel in Saudi Arabia. It is deplorable that a renowned global social media platform like Snap Inc starts censoring media content in order to submit to pressures from Saudi authorities. This action is a direct attack against the freedom of expression and will have detrimental consequences to the media industry.”
Al Jazeera director-general Mostefa Souag also stated: “We find Snapchat's action to be alarming and worrying. This sends a message that regimes and countries can silence any voice or platform they don't agree with by exerting pressure on the owners of social-media platforms and content distribution companies…
"We call on Snap Inc and other global media organizations to reject demands of oppressive regimes to silence journalists. We would like to remind Snap Inc that this decision violates the U.S. constitution, American laws and values of democracy.”