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Snapchat is blocking Saudis from seeing Al Jazeera

by Alexa Liautaud
Sep 18 2017, 11:10am

Snap Inc. blocked Al Jazeera on Snapchat in Saudi Arabia Sunday, saying it was complying with local laws that the Saudi Arabian government had accused the Qatar-based news network of violating.

In doing so, the social media platform has become the latest company caught in the diplomatic row among several Gulf countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE — and Qatar, which backs Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information accused Al Jazeera’s channel on Snapchat of violating two different laws, one related to cyber crimes, and the other to published materials.

“We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate,” a spokesperson from Snap told VICE News.

Al Jazeera’s head of Incubation and Innovation Research, Morad Rayyan, said the company was asking Snap to rethink its decision, adding that Snap was a publicly-traded company and “stands for freedom of expression.”

“We are urging them [Snapchat] to review the decision that was made,” Rayyan said. “They were the ones who invited us to be one of their news partners for the region.”

Saudi Arabia has targeted Al Jazeera since the country and others in the Gulf announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar in June. The same day, the Kingdom closed the Al Jazeera bureau in Riyadh and several days later, ordered all hotels and tourist locations to axe the channel. Roughly a month later, the 13-point list of demands issued by the blockade countries included shutting down Al Jazeera and its affiliates.

Reporters Without Borders, which called Al Jazeera a “collateral victim” in the blockade, ranked Saudi Arabia 168 on its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, three positions lower than its ranking in 2016.

In March 2015, Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel was the guest of Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, to discuss possible investment in the social media company. While it was never officially confirmed, sources speaking to TechCrunch said Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding organization did take part in a $500 million funding round.

Snapchat’s decision shows how Silicon Valley companies are increasingly being caught up in the crosshairs of geopolitical disputes across the globe. Earlier this year we saw Apple caving into authorities, first in China where it removed VPN apps which allowed users circumvent the government’s strict internet censorship tools, and last month Apple removed Iranian apps from its store due to U.S. sanctions against the country.

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