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Twitter gets royal treatment

Steve Henn Dec 19, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Big news for Twitter today, which is going take more than 140 characters to set up. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulla and one of the richest men in the world — is taking a $300 million stake in the company. Which is, in turn, raising some of questions.

Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.

Steve Henn: The prince has been dubbed the Warren Buffet of the Arab world.

Marwan Kraidy is a communications professor at University of Pennsylvania.

Marwan Kraidy: He’s a very unusual prince in the sense that he is a global investor.

Prince Alwaleed owns stakes Apple, CitiGroup and General Motors. He has a slice of Silvio Berlusconi’s Italian media empire and is the second largest shareholder in News Corp — that’s right: Fox.

While the prince says he’s investing in Twitter simply to turn a profit, the investment still gives Marwan Kraidy pause.

Kraidy: It doesn’t look very reassuring for people who are worried about who controls these media to have a member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia controlling such a high stake.

And Twitter’s role in the Arab world is expanding. Arabic is the fastest growing language on the service, which was credited with a large role in the Arab Spring.

Although $300 million is princely sum to most of us, it’s peanuts to Alwaleed, and his stake in Twitter is small. So, many free speech activists in the U.S. are not that concerned. Trevor Timm is at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Trevor Timm: Twitter actually has one of the best free speech policies as far as any of the social media networks go. They’ve been standing up to U.K. and U.S. pressure for years now, so to say that they would bow to Saudi Arabian pressure is a little premature.

For years, Twitter has grown by letting the tweets flow. Timm thinks it’s highly unlikely a small Saudi investment will change that.

In Silicon Valley, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: Looked for the prince on Twitter, by the way. No luck.

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