In 2018, Jamal Khashoggi visited Oslo to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum. At the time he was very concerned about the impact of disinformation and online platform manipulation on free speech, democracy, and the public sphere. The campaign of repression against him - and all of us - coincided with the rise of a formidable state-run disinformation network that is still very active today.
During his visit to Oslo, we introduced him to Twitter executives. During his week in Oslo, and during the weeks after, I had several conversations with Jamal about potential projects, one of them being a center to study and expose disinformation by Arab dictatorships. He even offered to cover initial expenses for such a project, and promised to find more support for it. This was convenient because we were already engaged in monitoring MENA disinformation, and had a pretty good idea about how to conduct it and how powerful it can be.
In September of 2018, Iyad and Jamal made plans to meet at the New York Oslo Freedom Forum to discuss practical steps for taking the project forward. However, he cancelled. We later found out that it was to go to Turkey to get engaged - the trip during which he was killed.
Right after his murder, we spoke with Twitter and we started a formal engagement with the company to protect MENA activists online and to help Twitter recognise and shut down attempts at platform manipulation. We also started to monitor Saudi regime disinformation around the Khashoggi murder itself, combining this analysis with whistleblower reports and other sources.
It was during this work that we discovered the Jeff Bezos blackmail scandal. We would later join forces with Bezos's own investigations team to fully investigate and expose it. It was this work that led to the threats against Iyad's life and his being placed under police protection in Norway. The Bezos story was also a big part of the narrative of Brian Fogel's movie "The Dissident".
After these threats we decided that our work on disinformation was too important to be let go of - it needed a specialised center, which we'll name after Jamal since it was his idea. This is when the Jamal Khashoggi Disinformation Monitor (JKDM) was born. Knowing the threats we face and the sensitivity of our work, we kept all of our work low-key and secretive, for obvious reasons.
Since 2019, we continued to grow and develop our disinformation monitoring. This was aided by funding we received in 2020 from partners motivated by the threat to the world's information sphere, and began to work with important international institutions who were interested in using our services more broadly to monitor possible operations by dictators targeting democratic processes.
During this entire time, our capabilities were improving, our team was growing, and our plans were consolidating, but we actively avoided any visibility, and our work was only known to specific stakeholders and close allies. But now, especially after recent events, it's time for us to formally announce the Jamal Khashoggi Disinformation Monitor - and announce our great team and our coming projects to the world.