The fallout of McKinsey & Company unwittingly ‘conspiring’ with social media giant Twitter to identify Saudi dissidents is still being absorbed. What is thus far known is that the US-based global management consultancy firm compiled a nine-page report — which it insists was drawn up for a primarily internal audience — to gauge the public’s response to austerity measures introduced in the Kingdom back in 2015. The upshot being that Twitter was home to twice the amount of chatter in this regard as any other platform. Regrettably, McKinsey identified three influential voices. All of whom fell foul of the Riyadh authorities. And then there is the matter of how an employee at the micro-blogging site spied on and red-flagged accounts from within. Yet at the heart of the scandal is how Saudi Arabia successfully mobilised a Troll Army to effectively silence those who openly tweeted criticism of a number of the Kingdom’s policies. These developments must serve as a warning for all. Namely, real world risks of (unjust) retribution all too easily cross over into the virtual realm. And that authoritarianism does not recognise such man-made demarcations. Thus the immediate and unfortunate takeaway from this is the need for self-censorship. This is something which with Pakistan’s journalists and civil society activists are becoming all too familiar. Yet this is a point that western journalists and, perhaps, researchers out in the field must take on board; particularly in terms of accountability. Especially when sharing posts about certain findings or analyses naming local sources. For international observers are, at times, all too ready to identify, say, prominent English speaking Afghans as being representative of an entire country. And this is often juxtaposed with being labelled pro- or anti-Taliban. It hardly needs to be pointed out whose security is compromised when associated with one camp or the other. Suffice to say, it is not the western correspondent or expert. In an ideal world, these would be non-issues. And, frankly speaking, it is national governments that are to a large extent driving the eye of the storm. From those who have continued to entertain the Saudi Crown Prince even as he commits war crimes in Yemen and locks up women activists. To those regimes that indirectly support the fundamentalism that takes root in the vacuum created by their warmongering in this part of the world as well as the Middle East. These power centres must understand that while they promote a freedom agenda their actions on the ground speak otherwise. The bottom line must be collective responsibility. And this means global companies, nation states and emerging platforms for the free exchange of words and ideas playing their due role towards this end. * Published in Daily Times, October 23rd 2018.