Openness and Restraint: Structure, Discourse, and Contention in Saudi Twitter

48 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015 Last revised: 10 Dec 2015

Helmi Noman

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

John Kelly

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: December 2015

Abstract

In this study, we map and analyze the structure and content of the Saudi Twittersphere and identify the communities that coalesce around different political, religious, social, and cultural topics and viewpoints. This study of the Saudi Twittersphere offers a detailed view of public sentiment and provides insights into the overall structure, discourse, and communities of the network. We look into how users take advantage of the fact that Twitter is an unfiltered media platform to advance their political and social causes. We also examine three case studies centered on issues that received extensive attention on Twitter at the national level during the course of this study.

Twitter opens up public space for Saudi citizens to engage in political and social discourse in a country that heavily restricts political speech, civic engagement, and media freedom. This space is technically accessible for public participation, but is shaped by legal measures regulating objectionable content and fear of confrontation with state policies and social norms. These nontechnical factors that constrain users seem to be behind two online behaviors that we observe on Saudi Twitter: users opt to self-censor their online activities to avoid problematic speech, and many of those who take controversial political stands choose to do so using pseudonyms. Within these constraints, the discourse and communities on Twitter reveal intellectual diversity and social divisions. We are able to see who is most interested in what issues and which topics are debated.

Suggested Citation

Noman, Helmi and Faris, Robert and Kelly, John, Openness and Restraint: Structure, Discourse, and Contention in Saudi Twitter (December 2015). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2015-16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2700944 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2700944

Helmi Noman (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Robert Faris

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

John Kelly

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Paper statistics

Downloads
497
Rank
44,944
Abstract Views
2,078