Some Questions About That McKinsey Report

While I was larking about this weekend, the New York Times published a story about how Saudi Arabia uses an army of Twitter trolls to control its public image. At the tail end of the story—because it apparently wasn’t considered very important—the Times revealed that in 2015, after Saudi Arabia introduced some domestic austerity measures, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed how effective the Saudi leadership’s overall PR strategy was:

In a nine-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, McKinsey found that the measures received twice as much coverage on Twitter as in the country’s traditional news media or blogs, and that negative sentiment far outweighed positive reactions on social media. Three people were driving the conversation on Twitter, the firm found: the writer Khalid al-Alkami; Mr. Abdulaziz, the young dissident living in Canada; and an anonymous user who went by Ahmad.

After the report was issued, Mr. Alkami was arrested, the human rights group ALQST said. Mr. Abdulaziz said that Saudi government officials imprisoned two of his brothers and hacked his cellphone, an account supported by a researcher at Citizen Lab. Ahmad, the anonymous account, was shut down.

Here in America, the overall view on Twitter was that McKinsey had essentially signed death warrants on three people. McKinsey, however, issued a statement saying the report was nothing more than “a brief overview of publicly available information,” and “It was not prepared for any government entity. Its intended primary audience was internal.” I have two questions:

For the New York Times: What does “issued” mean? How was the report issued? And to whom? And why can’t you simply post the report on your website so that all the rest of us can assess it?

For McKinsey: What does “intended primary audience” mean? And if the “primary” audience was internal, who was the rest of the intended audience? Also: If it was primarily for internal use, what prompted it to be written in the first place?


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