Twitter is growing up, writes Milo Yiannopoulos. But with maturity comes responsibility, and a few decisions that the social network’s fan base might not be ecstatic about.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the fate of the Middle East rests on the internal stability of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So far, the house of Saud has had little difficulty bribing its allies and opponents to keep the show on the road.
Foreign interference isn’t too much of a problem, largely because western powers have their tongues firmly embedded in the hind parts of the princely dynasty. Understandably.
Saudi Arabia probably doesn’t have to worry too much about social media either: consider the embarrassing failure of Twitter to kick-start a “green revolution” in the much more tech-savvy and unstable Iran. But still, why take the chance?
In December, a member of the Saudi Royal Family and one of the world’s richest men invested $300 million in the company. (No doubt the terms offered were very favourable compared to some of the tougher Valley VCs. Twitter does now share a significant investor with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, though.)
Last week, by an astonishing coincidence, Twitter decided to “reactively withhold” tweets in certain countries in order to demonstrate their social responsibility. Or something like that. All of which must have come as a delightful surprise to its new investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
He must be hoping that the Saudi Kingdom is one of those places where irresponsible tweeting becomes the equivalent of female driving: just one of those things that the Saudis regard as the thin end of the wedge.
In a sense, this is a historic moment for Twitter. It has entered the arena of responsible global capitalism – by bending its knee to the Saudis, just like everyone else. Admittedly, it’s unlikely that a second Arab Spring would blossom as a result of 140 character slogans – but, again: why take the chance?
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How brave, incidentally, of Twitter to risk invoking the fury of the Twitterati by erecting the same sort of legal safeguards, firewalls and geolocated content controls as any other multinational corporation. I mean, that open letter from Reporters Without Borders must have stung.
For die-hard digital revolutionaries, watching Twitter develop a hard-nosed instinct for self-preservation is as heart-breaking as seeing right-on crusader Johann Hari exposed as a greedy little fantasist.
(Incidentally, one thing the Saudi oligarchy needn’t worry about is the undermining of their Kingdom by fresh tweets from an indignant @johannhari101: Twitter hasn’t heard a squeak out of him for ages.)
This is the way it goes, kids. A social media start-up goes mainstream, its geeks turn into millionaires, and all of a sudden the company decides to pay more attention to its lawyers than to the self-righteous philippics of trustafarians whose time would be better spent locating the nearest shower than mouthing off about cuts to the NHS.
You may have heard of George Orwell, if only because a swollen-headed con artist was recently stripped of a prize bearing his name. Here’s a piece of advice for naïve digital utopians: read Animal Farm and tweet about it – while you still can.