Is Qatar aiming to control Twitter through financially supporting Elon Musk?
Qatar– Elon Musk recently received a $375 million funding commitment from Qatar Holding, a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. However, experts have raised concerns about restricted freedom of speech and expression on the social media platform in the future in view of Qatar’s funding commitment.
As part of his takeover, Musk had promised to uphold the principles of free speech in order to make Twitter a transparent platform. But, Qatar’s financial involvement in Twitter may threaten Musk’s ambition to promote free speech on the platform.
Global rights groups have called out Qatari authorities for their continuous endeavours to curtail freedom of expression and suppress critical voices in the country using repressive laws. At the same time, the Qatari government has been criticised for the lack of proper rights for migrant workers and the LGBTQ community.
In 2020, Qatar introduced a law criminalising a wide range of speech and publishing activities, which Amnesty International had regarded as restricting the freedom of expression in the country. The international rights agency had also called it “deeply troubling” that the Qatari Emir passed the legislation aimed at silencing peaceful critics.
Qatar’s law threatened to imprison “anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or republishes false or biased rumours, statements, or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state.”
“Qatar already has a host of repressive laws, but this new legislation deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression in the country and is a blatant breach of international human rights law,” said Lynn Maalouf, Research Director for the Middle East at Amnesty International.
Criticism from international groups
In 2021, reports were rife that Qatari security forces had targeted and arrested those citizens who expressed their opinions in peaceful criticism of the government. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) had later called on the Qatari authorities to protect public freedoms and respect the right to freedom of expression of the citizens.
Last year, the Qatari authorities arrested seven people for “spreading fake news” on social media during elections in the country. With a long-running history of suppressing free speech on social media and other platforms, Qatar currently ranks number 119 on the World Press Freedom Index.
As suggested by the company’s filing, Qatar Holding would hold roughly 1 per cent interest in the social media platform. Taking note of this, a recent report by Donald Bramer on ProlificSolutions sheds light to Qatar’s intention to restrict freedom of speech on Twitter in the Arab region through funding Musk’s takeover.
With Iran gaining influence in the Arab region through the help of Qatar, concerns have been raised by analysts over Tehran’s control over the social media platform. Previously, Iran’s lawmakers had attempted to control social networks, despite the tech giant’s efforts to block them. Even as social media platforms like Twitter are blocked in Iran, they are not completely banned. Experts have claimed that Iran’s security authorities have been making efforts to get complete control of the internet, particularly social media platforms for several years now.