A Saudi man explores social media on his mobile device as he sits at a cafe in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
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The participation of tens of thousands of young Saudis in a social media debate over plans to reform the kingdom's oil-reliant economy last month marked a shift in how Riyadh's rulers interact with their subjects.But in one of the most active countries on social media in the Arab world, the ruling Al Sauds have started trying to shape the online debate with carefully managed media campaigns and senior officials have been sacked after social media criticism.Some 190,000 Twitter users in Saudi Arabia actively took part in the ensuing debate over Vision 2030, generating more than 860,000 messages according to France-based social media monitor Semiocast.This meant the discussion reached 46 percent of the 7.4 million active Twitter users in the kingdom, Semiocast said, describing this level of outreach in a state-sponsored debate as exceptional.There is good reason for the sensitivity: Since 2012 social media storms in Saudi Arabia over government policies or the actions of senior officials have culminated in the sacking of senior people on at least five occasions.Social media use among the 21 million Saudis and roughly 10 million foreign residents of the kingdom cuts across political and religious lines: Keenly followed social media users include both strict Muslim preachers and self-described liberals.The debate had been closely coordinated over various media and driven by influential Saudi personalities young people were already connected to, the Online Project's Murra said.
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