Will Saudi’s telcos, government charge Saudi consumers to use social media?

Saudi is a country that isn’t well understood by many, especially by communicators. However, for all of the stereotypes the Kingdom has the capacity to surprise. Take for example a piece published by Saudi Arabic-language newspaper Al-Watan on the 15th of December. If true, the short story was a good piece of investigative journalism. To summarize for non-Arabic speakers out there, a number of telecommunications companies have met with the Communications and Information Technology Commission, the national regulator which oversees the telecommunications industry, to discuss levying on consumers a charge for social media services (the full story in Arabic is below).

Saudi telco operators have apparently met with the national regulator to discuss levying a social media charge on consumers, according to this piece in Al-Watan

Saudi telco operators have apparently met with the national regulator to discuss levying a social media charge on consumers, according to this piece in Al-Watan

The Kingdom has the most active social media base in the region; Saudis are avid users of services such as Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube. Saudis have taken to social media to call for boycotts against the telcos for what they describe as poor service and high costs. Quite understandably, this report didn’t go down too well with Saudi consumers. A new hashtag was conceived, named fees/charges on social media (#رسوم_علي_مواقع_التواصل).

The regulator has moved to deny the initial story – Al-Watan carried a denial piece the day after. However, partly due to a lack of trust in both the telcos and the regular, many Saudis online have expressed their belief that the news is true. The report prompted many Saudi influencers to share their own views online on the quality of service offered by Saudi telecommunications firm; below is a vblog by Saudi Gamer.

Globally telcos have been seeking solutions to redress the challenge of revenues lost to social media channels or applications which offer lower or free services such as messaging and calling. The issue is going to get worse, according to London-based research and analytics firm Ovum. The telecommunications industry will lose a combined $386 billion between 2012 and 2018, the firm predicts, from customers using over-the-top (OTT) voice applications such as Skype, or Whatsapp.

Some operators such as Verizon are looking to become content producers as well as deliver the content through the pipes. However, charging consumers for accessing social media would be a short-term but unpopular option for telcos to use as they seek to fill the revenue gap. How much it may impact online consumer behavior and advertising is anyone’s guess. We may find out next year.

Is Saudi in love with or scared @*#$less by Twitter?

Does this make sense? To anyone? (credit: Arab News)

Someone tell me, what is going on in the Magic Kingdom. Today we have a wonderful piece of editorial quality in Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper Arab News. The piece, titled Twitter may be linked to IDs, suggests that the country’s government is studying how to link Twitter accounts to identification cards, presumably to better monitor what all those naughty people are doing on the social media site. Here’s a link to the article and a quote from the piece below (as a journalist in Saudi I’ve never heard of the IT expert, but I’d probably disagree with his comments).

Twitter users beware. The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is currently studying the possibility of linking the access to microblogging site with the personal identification of social media users, according to sources.

The move is likely to create ripples in the social media circles.

A source at the CITC described the move as a natural result of the successful implementation of CITC’s decision to add a user’s identification numbers while topping up mobile phone credit.

Twitter has changed Saudi, period. And it’s not just me saying that either. There was a wonderful piece on Twitter and Saudi Arabia by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about how the social media site has transformed how Saudis communicate.

Even the Saudi government has got in on the Twitter act. Public figures including culture and information minister Dr. Abdul Aziz Khoja, labor minister Adel Al-Faqih, and commerce minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah all use Twitter, as do religious figures. A number of Saudi royals are also on Twitter and merrily tweeting away. And then there’s Al-Waleed. At the end of 2011 the Rainbow Prince and number XX on Forbes’ billionaire list Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced a $300 million investment in the website. He said at the time that: “the move demonstrates our ability to identify promising investment opportunities with high potential for global impact.”

The above article follows on from a piece earlier this year in Arab News, which I’m going to quote in its entirety and which you can read yourself here.

It is very difficult to monitor Twitter, one of the most popular social networking sites in Saudi Arabia which at the moment has more than 3 million active users, according to Abdulaziz Khoja, Saudi Minister of culture and information.

“The ministry cannot monitor everything published on Twitter,” Khoja said in a statement.

He stressed the difficulty of monitoring what everybody writes, relying on the need to raise awareness among society members regarding what they write and publish on Twitter, a local paper reported.

Nonetheless Khoja declared that the ministry is following up what is happening on Twitter with a number of government agencies.
The minister highlighted the need to raise the consciousness of the active users of social networking sites and to assist the Ministry of Culture and Information in the monitoring process.

However, Khoja refused to compare the situation of social sites with online newspapers, which have been streamlined following a recent regulation.

Khoja stressed that the control on Twitter should originate from individual values and community culture. “With time, individuals will learn to express their opinions and to deal with the events in a more understanding, knowledgeable and accommodating approach,” Khoja said.

So what’s next? Monitoring what people say/think? Good people in positions of authority, Twitter is a channel and not the source. Someone tell me, what is going on. All I hear is tweet, tweet, flip, flop, flip, flop.