The Saudi government has come under intense criticism for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and some Saudi social media users have come up with a way to fight back: boycotting Amazon.com.
Over the past few days, Saudi Twitter users have used hashtags such as #BoycottAmazon and #مقاطعة_امازون_وسوق_دوت_كوم to encourage their compatriots and allies to stop using Amazon as well as Souq, an online retailer bought by Amazon last year. According to Bloomberg News, the calls for a boycott topped Twitter’s trending topics in Saudi Arabia for several hours Sunday.
The boycott effort appears to be linked to The Washington Post’s coverage of the killing of Khashoggi, who was a contributing columnist to the newspaper. Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos is the founder and chief executive of Amazon.
Some of the tweets justified a boycott by saying that Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, are under attack.
Khashoggi, once a Riyadh insider, had become a trenchant critic of the crown prince’s reforms in recent years and lived in Virginia in self-imposed exile. He was killed Oct. 2 after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get a document he needed for his planned marriage.
The journalist’s disappearance — and the kingdom’s belated admission that he was killed at the consulate — caused a global publicity crisis for Saudi Arabia and Mohammed. Riyadh has repeatedly denied that the crown prince had any knowledge of a plan to kill Khashoggi, but many observers find that claim unlikely.
Still, many Saudis still support Mohammed: “What happened to Khashoggi is terrible and goes against Islam," one Saudi citizen in the town of Ad Dilam said to The Post last week. "Our crown prince did not do that. We trust him, and we feel the changes he has made for us.”
It’s unclear how much the Amazon boycott drive represents popular opinion in Saudi Arabia. The country has one of the most active Twitter user bases in the Arab world, but analysts say the use of pro-government bots is widespread and often designed to get certain messages onto trending lists.
Many of the tweets calling for a boycott of Amazon used similar if not identical language, suggesting some degree of coordination. Some users also used the hashtags to criticize the call for boycott, saying it would not make a difference.
Amazon had been looking toward Saudi Arabia as an area of potential growth. The retailer began hiring for new positions in Riyadh this year after Bezos met with Mohammed in Seattle in March. It also used Souq, which is widely used in Saudi Arabia, to offer access to Amazon.
A representative from Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.