Twitter is in the news again today, and not for the best of reasons. The Middle East’s operations of the social media platform have been in the spotlight for a number of weeks. The social media platform had been criticized by Egyptian activists for suspending a number of prominent campaigners and civil society figures (including bizarrely, the Man Booker prize winner Ahdaf Soueif.
These actions, which were criticized by human rights campaigners as being targeted at Egyptians who are critical of their government, followed in the wake of action taken earlier in September by Twitter, which resulted in the closing of 271 ‘manipulative’ accounts across the region. It also prompted debate online about the need for Twitter to move its office to what’s described as the only country in the Middle East which is a democracy, namely Tunisia.
The reasoning behind this idea is simple. Online activists argue that Twitter is being influenced by those countries it has offices in to take action that is politically-motivated. They go on to argue that in Tunisia, a country whose constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, thought, expression, information, and publication (subject to some restrictions according to Freedom house), Twitter will be under less governmental pressure to silence online critics (Twitter’s impact on civil society can be clearly seen in Iraq and Lebanon, where anti-government protests are ongoing).
Twitter’s challenge is that most of its MENA revenue comes from the Gulf, with Saudi and the UAE being its two largest markets for business. By moving away from Dubai, where it’s currently based alongside many of its agency partners and brands, Twitter will be losing out to other digital platforms who are based in Dubai.
Twitter MENA announced via a series of Tweets that it was restoring many of the Egyptian accounts which were suspended. But the question remains for Twitter. How do you balance politics with business on a platform which many view as the only means by which they can express themselves freely?