Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a columnist for The Washington Post, was influential in
Saudi and global public opinion. The killing of Jamal Khashoggi affected Twitter users around
the world, and this effect negatively continued even a year after his death towards the Saudi
government and its leaders. On October 2, 2019, the first anniversary of his death, the hash tag
#JusticeForJamal became a trend in the social media platform, Twitter, until it finally became
one of the most influential hashtags on Twitter.
This paper seeks to discover the motivation of Twitter users' participation in the hash tag
#JusticeForJamal on the first anniversary of his death. The choice of twitter as a source of data is
predicated on the fact that twitter is currently a powerful tool in opinion shaping. It attempts to
identify the nature of tweets in the hashtag #JusticeForJamal, additionally, this study also aims to
locate the countries that are the most active participation in this hashtag.
This section will outline and analyze available online literature on Twitter, the use of hash tags
and the motivations behind #JusticeForJamal, specifically focusing on Twitter. This will make it
possible to generate a bigger picture of the drivers behind the hash tag #JusticeForJamal on
Jamal Khashoggi: Background
It would be impossible to discuss Twitter in relation to Khashoggi without first understanding
who Jamal Khashoggi is and why he is important to this discussion. Jamal was a reporter for the
Washington Post and a Saudi Arabian exile by choice (Myre, 2018). His relationship with the
Royal family was however complicated and went back generations before (Myre, 2018). Jamal’s
grandfather was King Abdul Aziz’s doctor. According to VOA, his uncle also became a weapons
broker for King Fahd (Myre, 2018). Khashoggi himself became a very prominent journalist in
Saudi Arabia with close links to the royal family. As a journalist, he covered globally impactful
stories, such as the soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Al Qaeda (BBC, 2019).
However, Jamal went into self-imposed exile in the United States in 2017 after falling out of
favor with the royal family, where he wrote columns for the Washington Post – most of which
criticized the Crown Prince’s rule (BBC, 2019). This fact alone, considered alongside the fact
that Khashoggi was murdered in a Saudi consulate by individuals working under Prince
Mohammed bin Salaman, makes him a very important figure in any discussion around human
rights, the freedom of speech and media freedom. This is why Twitter, as a qualitative measure
of the global response to his murder, is essential.
It is no secret that Twitter is highly influential, especially in geopolitics, and can be a powerful
tool for shaping public opinion (AIP, 2014).
This is made possible by twitter’s extensive mass communication capabilities. Through the use
of such features as hash tags (#) and mentions, twitter makes it easy for public opinion to quickly
coalesce around any issue of interest. This means that twitter can in fact be used as a tool for
mounting social or political pressure. As Wiesenhofer puts it, “Twitter seems to be a postmodern
form of traditional social activity” (Wiesenhofer et.al, 2010). Furthermore, Twitter grows at a
rate of 1382% every year (Wiesenhofer et.al, 2010). All this goes to show that traditional
communication is quickly evolving within the development of virtual social networks. As such,
Twitter is an extremely useful and powerful tool for reaching the global community and quickly
shaping public opinion, as will be seen in the next section.
It should be noted that opinions expressed on twitter tends to evolve rapidly and transform into a
normative ordering, in which one opinion remains dominant (AIP, 2014). Because of this, one
opinion’s advantage in the early stages of an argument can become a big difference as public
Use of hashtag on twitter
It has already been established that social media, specifically Twitter, is changing how public
opinion is influenced. It is rapidly growing and attracting more users, encouraged by the
development of easily affordable technology. Because twitter is such a big platform, it generates
massive amounts of data in the form of tweets every day (Kywe et.al, 2011). Therefore, in order
for users to quickly organize and search for information, they use hashtags, stylized as #. The
hashtag is among the most unique tools for this purpose, yet little literature exists on the effective
use of this tool (Saxton et.al, 2015). Hashtags form the themes around which discussions evolve
and public opinion gets shaped. Kywe et.al however, argue that hash tags tend to have a rapid
half-life, and as such have short existence. This paper reveals otherwise, since the hashtag
#JusticeForJamal has persisted despite being first generated more than a year ago.
Social media advocacy is one way in which hash tags can be used to reach multitudes of users
and quickly influence public opinion. Advocacy groups employ the use of hashtags in various
ways. For example, they may use a large number of hashtags for every tweet in order to
maximize the potential of outreach in terms of raw numbers and retweets (Saxton et.al, 2015).
These users and organizations may also use specially identified hashtags, which are well-known
and which can be easily seen or looked up by other users. For this to be effective, it is necessary
to use those hashtags that are likely to advance a user’s cause. For example, although an NGO
treating cancer can use generic hashtags to reach the public (such as #cancer), its message is
likely to become more memorable and serve for better brand recognition by using a more
specific hashtag, such as #FindaCure. #JusticeForJamal is one such specific hashtag. An
important aspect to note about these types of hashtags is that they are context-specific and
usually get associated with one campaign or the other, rarely more than one. Hashtags which
have been trademarked or put to use before are unlikely to generate online public attention
(Saxton et.al, 2015). Their effectiveness therefore greatly depends on the incidence of previous
use, or its lack thereof.
Finally, it is necessary to monitor how hashtags are used by the public, more so in public interest
instances such as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. First, by analyzing the use of a hashtag, we
can determine what points of a message are reverberating with the target audience (AIP, 2014).
This information can be used to amplify specific reiterations within a message and hence
encourage their continued discussion, or draw attention away from them (Saxton et.al, 2015).
Furthermore, by analyzing the use of hashtags, those that don’t generate public interest can be
replaced by ones that do. Thirdly, users generating interest topics may cancel unpopular online
campaigns by monitoring hashtag use and reuse, e.g. if there are extensive negative sentiments
towards the hashtag in question.
For the above reasons, hashtags have become very important on twitter, not only as tools for
driving public opinion but also to appraise the effectiveness of social media campaigns.
Saudi Arabia (Cultural, Social, Political and Justice systems)
Thanks to its substantial oil resources, Saudi Arabia has become the world’s 15 th largest
economy. Saudi Arabia has a rich culture founded on its historical role as a center for ancient
trade; a cross-road between global traders. Its culture is also founded on the nation’s Bedouin
heritage and its’ deep Islamic roots. Archaeological evidence shows that human inhabitation in
the area goes back for over one million years. This highlights a long history of advanced
civilization, manifested through the rule of many different kingdoms and states throughout time,
enriched by geographical location at the heart of ancient international trade routes.
Despite media perception towards the contrary, modern-day Saudi Arabia is a traditional and
highly conservative society, deeply founded on strong religious values, beliefs, and customs
(Kwintessential, n.d). It is expected that expatriates and visitors alike should respect and adhere
to these values, traditions and beliefs. As will be discussed below, these values are deeply
entrenched in the political and social structuring of the Saudi Arabian society. This means
politics and culture are synonymous to each other, if not very closely linked. All Saudis practice
Islam, the state religion that provides guidance and rules for every individual’s personal,
economic, political, legal and social lives (Kwintessential, n.d). Religious obligations such as
prayer times are embedded into public and business life and are not considered flexible, and most
businesses will close on a Friday, the Muslim holy day.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with what is known as a Basic Law. However, it has no
political parties, unions, or other types of political association (Fanack, n.d). The country’s basic
system of governance was designed as an alternative to the Constitutional system. IIt was
established in 1992 after widespread and numerous calls for political reform. The law, known as
The Basic Law of Governance, consists of just 83 articles. These articles are drafted by a special
committee organized by the King and the Minister of Interior at the time in question. The articles
are based on the Sharia. Sharia is Islamic Law. According to this law, the Koran (the Muslim
holy book) and the Sunna (the Prophet’s teachings and deeds) form the basic sources of
The King’s role is tripartite. He acts as the head of state, Prime Minister, and the Supreme
Commander. This means that the King’s position combines legislative, executive, and judicial
functions. This is one of the major reasons the global community has been pushing for a
dismissal of the trials being held in Saudi Arabia to determine responsibility in Khashoggi’s
death. The inescapable intertwining between governance, enforcement and the justice system in
Saudi Arabia has played a delicate yet backstage role in encouraging foreign call to pressure
through Twitter and other means of exerting pressure. It must be noted that Royal decrees have
the power to overrule any judicial or administrative decision. While the three authorities in the
country are recognized as judicial, executive, and regulatory, the King is the ultimate arbiter for
these authorities, based on Article 44 of the Basic Law of Governance. The royal family
dominates the government, and most of the key positions in the country are occupied by
members of the family. The authoritarian nature of the government limits strictly all associations
without official license or supervision. Besides the King, who holds vast powers, a few
influential members of the royal family and the higher council of religious scholars share in
shaping political decision-making. The religious scholars maintain a strong grip on internal
Justice system in Saudi Arabia
Since Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, its judicial system is based on Islamic law (Shari’ah) for
both criminal and civil cases. At the top of the legal system is the King, who acts as the final
court of appeal and as a source of pardon.
The Saudi court system consists of three main parts. The largest is the Shari’ah Courts, which
hear most cases in the Saudi legal system. The Shari’ah courts are organized into several
categories: Courts of the First Instance (Summary and General Courts), Courts of Cassation and
the Supreme Judicial Council.
Supplementing the Shari’ah courts is the Board of Grievances, which hears cases that involve the
government. The third part of the Saudi court system consists of various committees within
government ministries that address specific disputes, such as labor issues. In April 2005, a royal
order approved in principle a plan to reorganize the judicial system. On October 1, 2007, a royal
order approved the new system. Changes include the establishment of a Supreme Court and
special commercial, labor and administrative courts.
Shari’ah refers to the body of Islamic law. It serves as a guideline for all legal matters in Saudi
Arabia. In the Shari’ah, and therefore in Saudi Arabia, there is no difference between the sacred
and the secular aspects of society. Muslims derive Shari’ah law primarily from the Holy Qur’an
and secondarily from the Sunnah, the practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad during his
lifetime. The third source is Ijma’, the consensus of opinion of Muslim scholars on the principles
involved in a specific case occurring after the death of the Prophet. Qias, analogy, is the fourth
source of law. Shari’ah presumes that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and only in
serious crimes or in cases of repeat offenders is one likely to witness severe punishments.
The world after Jamal’s death
Immediately after the assassination of Jamal Kashoggi, there was a lot of media coverage,
especially in American media. This is partly due to the fact that Khashoggi has sought asylum in
the U.S. and was a reporter for the Washington Post. On some level however, the reaction to
Jamal’s death, especially from political actors such as the Turkish state, was also a matter of
geopolitics. This is very true, considering Saudi Arabia’s central position in the distribution of
global oil resources.
In looking at Jamal’s death, one has to consider the two broad categories of narratives that grew
out of it: on the one hand it was about human rights and the killing of a journalist, and on the
other it was about geopolitics in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia. All of this, of course, has to
be considered in context to MBS’s way of ruling, the galvanizing effects of the Arab Springs and
foreign interests in the matter. Of course, the geopolitical angle of the murder has gradually
become the main narrative. The U.S. narrative regarding the disappearance of Khashoggi depicts
the Trump administration's complicated relationship with the Middle East. It is widely accepted
that the U.S. is a liberal democracy, in which the rule of law, the freedom of speech and free
market economy are at the center. This perception might be partly true within the borders of the
U.S., but it does not play into reality abroad. The U.S. had never been a real proponent of ideal
liberal democracy in shaping its foreign policy priorities abroad, especially in the Middle East.
More importantly, the existing U.S. strategy in the Middle East constitutes the most troubling
strategic obstacle preventing the achievement of a stable order in the region.
Regarding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, however, the U.S. embraced two different
narratives simultaneously. The mainstream media, particularly the Washington Post, where
Jamal Khashoggi contributed as a columnist, disseminated the intelligence information shared by
anonymous Turkish intelligence sources and pushed the Trump administration to take some
responsibility to clarify whether his most popular ally, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, also
known as MBS, has any responsibility behind the disappearance of Khashoggi. While the media
and some of high profile Republicans and Democrats frame the Khashoggi case within the
context of American universal values, the Trump administration determined its strategy in line
with its arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the containment strategy of Iran, the fragile balance of
power in the Gulf region, and the U.S.-Israel master plan on Palestine. However, Turkey’s
cautious approach gradually pushed Saudi Arabia to accept its responsibility, and the Trump
administration had to change its ways of framing the issue.
Restatement of purpose
The aim of this paper is to appraise the use of the Hashtag #JusticeForJamal on social media,
including its impact, the motivations behind it and the social as well as political factors that come
In order to achieve the purpose stated above, this report will use quantitative as well as
qualitative research methods. The qualitative research will be carried out through social media
analytics tools such as Twitter analytics. These tools are widely available online from third party
websites as well as Twitter. Qualitative research will yield data on trends around the hashtag
#JusticeForJamal by grouping what users have said into relevant and correlated pieces of
information. For example, by determining the number of impressions or retweets made by online
opinion shapers, the researchers will be able to tell which users have been the most influential in
getting users to participate in the hashtag.
Impression here refers to the number of times a tweet shows up on a user’s timeline. An ideal
example would be tracking the number of impressions a tweet by @therealdonaldtrump made on
October 2. This can be taken a step further by analyzing the number of impressions
@therealdonaldtrump made with tweets containing #JusticeForJamal.
Retweet refers to the number of times a tweet has been regenerated by other users within their
accounts. Retweets contribute to the spread of information through increase in raw numbers; the
more retweets a tweet gets, the more viewed the tweet is likely to be.
Furthermore, qualitative data will allow the researchers to determine the prevalence of the
hashtag #JusticeForJamal by any given parameter. For example, the research may look at
popularity of the hashtag by nation and find out the most participative countries in terms of how
many users contribute. This can then be analyzed in relation to bigger issues such as geopolitics
and the discourse on media freedom. For example, the research may determine that participation
by most users was mainly due to sentiment about the murder and not a show of solidarity in
pushing for media freedom. Such finding will be crucial in determining the motivating factors
behind participation by classes or large groups of people. Additionally, qualitative data analysis
will be used. This will allow the researches to draw conclusions that cannot be made from
quantitative data. For example, a sentiment analysis of the hashtag #JusticeForJamal may yield
results as to how most users feel about this topic. Positive comments will generally point towards
positive sentiments while negative comments will indicate the opposite.
By using the above methods of research, this paper will reveal the trends surrounding
#JusticeForJamal, allowing the researchers to draw objective conclusions.
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