Social media company X, formerly known as Twitter, has been accused in a US civil lawsuit of helping Saudi Arabia commit severe human rights abuses against its users, The Guardian reported.
The report accuses the social media firm of, among other things, disclosing confidential user data at the request of Saudi Arabian authorities in July and December 2015 at a much higher rate than in the US, UK or Canada.
The lawsuit was filed last May by the sister of Arej al-Sadhani, a Saudi aid worker who was forcibly disappeared and later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
It chronicles the events surrounding the infiltration of the California company by three Saudi agents, two posing as Twitter employees, in 2014 and 2015, which ultimately led to the arrest and unmasking of al-Sadan's brother, Abdulrahman. Thousands of anonymous Twitter users, some of whom were later arrested and tortured as part of the government's crackdown on dissent, the report said.
Al-Sadan's lawyers updated their claim last week to include new allegations about how Twitter, under then-CEO Jack Dorsey, deliberately ignored or knew about the Saudi government's campaign to dispel critics, but – according to financial considerations and The Guardian, Efforts to maintain close ties with the government of Saudi Arabia, the company's main investor, helped the kingdom.
The convict, Mohammed al-Ghamdi, 54, is the brother of a Saudi scholar and government critic who lives in exile in the UK. Saudi court records reviewed by HRW showed al-Ghamdi was accused of running two accounts with a total of 10 followers.
The Saudi crackdown can be traced back to December 2014, when Ahmad Abuamo – who was later convicted in the United States of acting as an undercover Saudi agent and lying to the FBI – began accessing and sending confidential user data to Saudi officials.
The new lawsuit says he sent a message to Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide to Mohammed bin Salman, through the social media company's messaging system, saying: “Proactively and reactively we will wipe out evil my brother.”
It was a directive, the lawsuit said, to identify and harm Saudi dissidents who used the platform. Al-Qahtani was later accused by the US of orchestrating the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“Twitter was either aware of this message — brazenly sent on its own platform — or deliberately ignored it,” the updated lawsuit says.
After Abuamo resigned in May 2015, he continued to contact Twitter regarding requests for the identities of confidential users. He told the company, the lawsuit says, that the requests were on behalf of his old partners in the Saudi government.
The suit also said Twitter had “substantial notice” of security risks to internal personal data and that there was a risk of illegal insider access, based on public reporting at the time.
Twitter “didn't just ignore all of these red flags … it knew about the malicious campaign,” the suit says.