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US citizen jailed in Saudi for tweets on Khashoggi, Yemen: son

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Ibrahim Almadi (L), poses for a picture with his father, Saad, at a vacation resort in Florida on June 20, 2021

Ibrahim Almadi (L), poses for a picture with his father, Saad, at a vacation resort in Florida on June 20, 2021 – Copyright AFP Sergei CHUZAVKOV

A US citizen jailed in Saudi Arabia is being punished for “mild” Twitter posts on topics including the war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his son told AFP on Wednesday. 

Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old of Saudi origin, was this month sentenced to 16 years in prison, the latest in a spate of what human rights groups describe as draconian sentences for social media criticism of the government. 

The case risks further ratcheting up tensions between Riyadh and Washington, longtime partners currently at odds over oil output cuts approved by the OPEC+ cartel, which the White House says amount to “aligning with Russia” in the Ukraine war. 

Almadi was detained on arrival in Saudi Arabia in November last year for what was meant to be a two-week trip, said his son Ibrahim, who went public with the case this week, criticising US officials for failing to do more to secure his release. 

The State Department said on Tuesday it had “consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government”, and that “exercising freedom of expression should never be criminalised”. 

On Wednesday, Ibrahim shared with AFP a list of Twitter posts he said had been used in evidence against his father — information he said had been confirmed by the State Department.

They include posts on taxes as well as controversial demolition work in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, and the Red Sea city of Jeddah. 

One post questions why Saudi Arabia is unable to prevent attacks by Huthi rebels in war-wracked Yemen, where the kingdom heads a military coalition in support of the internationally recognised government. 

Another refers to the “sacrifice” of Khashoggi, whose killing by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate sparked global outrage. 

Saudi officials also found an unflattering caricature of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, on Almadi’s phone, Ibrahim said. 

– Case ‘mishandled’ –

Almadi was charged in part with supporting and funding terrorism and trying to destabilise the kingdom, Ibrahim said. 

Ibrahim accused the State Department of having “mishandled” his father’s case, including by not sending a representative to the October 3 sentencing — something the State Department acknowledged on Tuesday, saying Saudi Arabia originally gave a later date for the hearing before moving it up. 

“My father should be their biggest worry from day one,” Ibrahim said, referring to US officials. 

“The problems and the tensions between Saudi and the US shouldn’t start because of oil. It should start because senior American citizens are detained over tweets.” 

Ibrahim also expressed concern for his father’s health

“They prevent him from sleeping. They make him stand up. He’s 72 years old and his health condition is just decreasing,” Ibrahim said by phone from the United States, where he lives. 

“He had back problems. He needs surgery done as soon as possible in his back. I already have an appointment for him here.” 

Almadi received a 16-year travel ban on top of his jail sentence.

Saudi officials have not commented on Almadi’s case or on other recent verdicts against people who criticised the government on social media. 

Nourah al-Qahtani, a mother of five in her late 40s, was recently sentenced for 45 years for using Twitter to “challenge” the country’s leaders.

Salma al-Shehab, a doctoral candidate at Britain’s University of Leeds, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for allegedly aiding dissidents seeking to “disrupt public order” by retweeting their posts. 

Democracy for the Arab World Now, a US-based rights group founded by Khashoggi, said last week the verdicts could reflect recent appointments to the Specialised Criminal Court, which handles such cases. 

“The Crown Prince is appointing loyalist security officials who lack even basic training as judges to its kangaroo ‘counter-terrorism’ court, punishing the mildest social dissent with shocking sentences,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, DAWN’s Gulf director. 

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the government, said on Twitter on Tuesday that Saudi authorities were “managing a tricky transition that could easily slip into civil strife”. 

“Govt. is prioritizing stability as it imposes change on a very polarized society,” he said. 

“This is a very imperfect process + prosecutorial/judicial overreach is happening.”

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Instagram Tests More BeReal-Like Elements as it Looks to Lean Into the Authentic Social Shift

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Instagram Tests More BeReal-Like Elements as it Looks to Lean Into the Authentic Social Shift

Will the BeReal process of posting an image of whatever you might be doing at a specific moment of the day end up becoming a lasting social media trend, or will it fade out, like many viral shifts before it?

It feels, in some ways, like it’s already waning – though BeReal did win App of the Year on both the Apple and Google (‘Users Choice’ category) stores for 2022. So there’s that – and overall, there is also a sense that BeReal has showcased an underlying trend in social, that people have had enough of the airbrushed, edited, sculpted personas that people present in their every upload and comment online.

It all feels a bit staged, and BeReal eliminates that, in a creative way. But what’s next for BeReal, as an app? Is there anything more that can be done with that concept?

Is there anything that other apps can do with it – and is it worthy of further exploration?

Instagram’s certainly giving it a shot.

After trying out a very BeReal-esque feature called ‘Candid’ earlier this year, Instagram is now also developing some similar features, focused on different elements within the app.

First off, Instagram’s working on something called ‘Roll Call’ which would enable group chat members to request that all participants add a photo or video of themselves to the chat within 5 minutes.

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi, Roll Call is effectively a small-scale version of BeReal, within an enclosed group chat, as opposed to sending the request to all of your contacts.

Instagram Roll Call example

Instagram’s also working on ‘Glimpse’ Stories, which works exactly like BeReal, in using the front and back cameras to show what you’re up to at any given time.

Instagram Glimpse example

As you’ll note in both of these variations, they require participation, just like BeReal, with the images or videos posted only made visible to those who’ve also submitted their own contribution to the Roll Call/Glimpse.

Could that work, and become a more significant trend on IG, if indeed either feature is ever actually released?

I mean, maybe.

Again, BeReal has seen a massive surge in downloads this year, so there’s clearly interest in such functionality, and really, the BeReal process is more of a feature than a platform in itself, so it could also make more sense as a complementary element within Instagram or some other app, than as a separate app of its own.

But it also feels like a bit of a fad that people will tire of – an antidote to the artificiality that now dominates the main apps, but which doesn’t actually change them, or the way we use the more popular apps, as such.

Which is the real challenge. While there is clearly a desire for more genuine, honest communication within social apps, the big platforms already play such a significant role in our daily process that it’s going to be difficult to usurp them, while it’s also hard to resist the entertainment value of TikTok for distraction and engagement, veering away from social connection.

How do you make the mundane more interesting, and a more significant aspect, when it’s more of a curiosity, a fleeting interest to make you feel more connected, but not a longer-term engagement element within itself?

The unfortunate truth that all social apps have eventually shown us is that we’re all pretty boring. Most of us don’t lead amazing, glamorous lives worthy of constant documentation, which is what’s eventually led to more people portraying enhanced versions of their existence to glean more likes and interest from others in this constructed digital engagement sphere.

That’s then gone even further, into image editing and blatant distortions of reality, in all respects, which has then led people to question more of what they’re seeing, while on another front, friends and family sharing their political opinions has forced us to see sides to them that we never knew, and in many cases, didn’t really need to find out about.

Which is what’s then set the scene for an app like BeReal to come in, and show us, in a relatable, human way, that we’re actually much more closely aligned than these increasingly false or distorted depictions may suggest.

That feels like the seed of a new shift, a new way of approaching social media interaction – but thus far, that’s as far as we’ve got. There’s just not much else you can do to build on that concept, and lean into that trend.

Maybe it’ll spark the next industry shift, and maybe it’ll be Instagram or TikTok or some other established app that will crack the code and find the best way forward on this front (I’d argue that Snapchat’s focus on connection among friends is most closely aligned with this shift, as a general app approach).

But right now, it feels like a limited element, a glimmer of what could be in amongst the broader social media cacophony.   

Instagram might make more of a push to see what happens, but it may need something more to evolve this into a bigger element.  



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