Democratic Senator Concerned Over Saudi Financing In Musk's Twitter Deal

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) warned the Saudis could use their influence on the company "to silence government critics and human rights activists."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Monday raised concerns about the “potential influence” the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would have on Twitter’s operations after the Saudis and Qatar contributed financing to help Elon Musk complete his purchase of the social media company.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal agreed to roll over $1.9 billion worth of Twitter shares through his Kingdom Holding Company to Musk’s new private company, making him the second largest investor in Twitter. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, owns nearly 17% of Kingdom Holding, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Qatar contributed $375 million for the financing of Musk’s Twitter purchase.

In a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the kingdom as “one of the most repressive countries in the world, with little to no tolerance for free expression,” calling for the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to look into the degree of Saudi influence on Twitter.

Murphy referred to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed, as well as evidence of the Saudis hiring people to spy on dissidents to justify his call for an investigation.

Earlier this month, a U.S. citizen was reportedly sentenced to 16 years in prison because of tweets he posted while in the U.S. that were criticizing the Saudi government, his family said, according to The Associated Press. Another woman, a Ph.D. student in the U.K. and mother of two children, also received a lengthy prison sentence for using Twitter to follow accounts and share posts critical of the kingdom.

“It would therefore be reasonable to examine whether any degree of Saudi influence over Twitter’s operations or access to user data could foreseeably be used to silence government critics and human rights activists, or to further state-sponsored disinformation campaigns,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy also raised the potential of interference in Twitter’s use as a communication medium between elected leaders and the public in the U.S.

“The possibility that a foreign power may now be able to influence the ability of the White House or a Governor to communicate with constituents must be thoroughly examined,” he said.

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