Was #MakkahLive a PR stunt to appease Arabs and Muslims?

Published: July 20, 2015
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PHOTO: SYED TALAL

Social media is powerful. There’s no denying that. Time and time again, social media has proven its efficacy in relaying the truth regarding social narratives when traditional media has failed to do so. Snapchat is one such powerful medium. It allows users to share images in 10-second video clips with each other.

Recently, Snapchat introduced a live story option which allows its users to post clips or images from a given location or event. These ‘snaps’ from the same location or event are then collated into a 24-hour live public story available to all users. Here’s the catch – Snapchat decides what clips make the final cut. This form of gate-keeping is significant because it forms the public’s perception of a given place. Reality, then, is what Snapchat decides to show to the world.

And thus begins the story of how Snapchat became politicised. You see, Snapchat made the blunder of broadcasting Tel Aviv live exactly a year after one of Israel’s deadliest attacks on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. Naturally, it caused an outrage. It wasn’t just the fact that Snapchat’s Tel Aviv story recognised a state that colonises, occupies, and violates international law with no accountability. Rather, it was the fact that not a single Palestinian element had been included in that story, almost as if the Arab narrative never existed within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The resulting outrage forced Snapchat to create a West Bank Live story the very next day. Falafel was recognised as a Palestinian snack and snaps mentioning illegal settlements, checkpoints and the Palestinian symbol of resistance – the kuffiyeh – all made the cut. The world felt right again.

While West Bank Live may have been nothing more than a crisis-averting PR stunt, one can’t deny that it was powerful. It gave Palestinians recognition of their existence. It allowed a window to a place torn by one of the worst political conflicts of our time. More importantly, it gave a human perspective of strength, optimism, struggle, and humour despite difficulties in a land that has become nothing more than statistics to the mainstream media.

The next story that went live after West Bank was Makkah. Yep, one of the holiest Muslim cities was broadcasted live by Snapchat on Monday, Ramazan 27th, which many believe is the night of Laylatul Qadr (Night of power). Was it a coincidence that Makkah went live on one of the most revered nights of worship for Muslims around the world?

Sceptics say this was a sheepish continued effort to appease Arabs and Muslims around the world after the Palestine blunder.

Of course, Arabs and Muslims are often lumped together by mainstream media, and by this logic, Snapchat may have decided to broadcast Makkah live next to avert their politically incorrect blunder. However, let’s not forget that Islam has the second-largest number of followers in the world and is currently the fastest growing religion. Moreover, one cannot ignore the fact that Snapchat users started trending a #MakkahLive hashtag on Twitter, requesting a chance to showcase Islam.

With so many users at stake, Snapchat certainly can’t afford this PR crisis – from a purely profit standpoint, of course. PR stunt or not, one can’t deny that broadcasting Makkah is essential in dispelling the negative stereotypes about Islam. At a time when an ISIS version of Islam is the dominant media narrative, a window inside the lives of ordinary Muslims is a much-needed normalisation of a villainised religion.

While some may question this politicisation of Snapchat and others may dismiss it as ‘just another social media application’, one would be foolish to ignore the immense potential that this application has.

While demanding a Gaza story on Twitter, users began posting their Snapchat usernames. This would allow people from Gaza and the occupied territories to see the unfiltered reality that dissents from Snapchat’s version.

To reiterate then, Snapchat is powerful. It is powerful in dispelling stereotypes. It is powerful in disseminating truth to the public. And it is powerful in reclaiming the oft-mistaken mainstream media narratives.

Arfah Shahid Siddiqi

Arfah Shahid Siddiqi

The author is a freelance journalist and aspiring human rights lawyer with a passion for human rights, postcolonial thought and gender equality. She currently runs a female empowerment blog aiming to break stereotypes surrounding women in fashion. She tweets as @ArfaShahid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.