A US Consulting Firm Helped The Saudi Crown Prince Track Down His Critics Online

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead/Public Domain

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company prepared a report that wound up in the hands of the Saudis.

In researching the troll farm used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to tamp down dissent on social media, The New York Times discovered that an American global management consulting firm provided Saudi Arabia with information on three Twitter users who were leading the charge against the crown prince’s austerity measures.

One of those individuals was arrested, along with family members of another.

> After the country announced economic austerity measures in 2015 to offset low oil prices and control a widening budget gap, McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, measured the public reception of those policies.

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> In a nine-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, McKinsey found that the measures received twice as much coverage on Twitter as in the country’s traditional news media or blogs, and that negative sentiment far outweighed positive reactions on social media.

Negative Twitter engagement on the issue was being driven largely by just three individuals, the report found: “the writer Khalid al-Alkami; Mr. Abdulaziz, the young dissident living in Canada; and an anonymous user who went by Ahmad.”

> After the report was issued, Mr. Alkami was arrested, the human rights group ALQST said. Mr. Abdulaziz said that Saudi government officials imprisoned two of his brothers and hacked his cellphone, an account supported by a researcher at Citizen Lab. Ahmad, the anonymous account, was shut down.

McKinsey told The Times that its report was an internal document based on public information, adding that it was not prepared at the request of any government.

> “We are horrified by the possibility, however remote, that it could have been misused,” a McKinsey spokesman said in a statement. “We have seen no evidence to suggest that it was misused, but we are urgently investigating how and with whom the document was shared.”

Read the full report here.

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