While the global headlines on Saudi Arabia focused on the coverage of the United States override of President Obama’s veto on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) law, a more local story was grabbing people’s attention.
It all started when a young 19-year-old Saudi man, named Abu Sin (the toothless one), started chatting online to a young Californian girl - Christina Crockett - on camera and posting their conversations on the YouNow program.
Neither spoke the other’s language (he did not understand English, she Arabic) which led to some comedic moments for those watching them.
What exactly happened?
The conversations between Abu Sin and Crockett were first broadcast on YouNow before being relayed on YouTube. They fast grew in popularity on that platform, garnering hundreds of thousands of viewers.
One video in particular went viral when Abu Sin, while smoking a cigarette, asked Christina for her hand in marriage. Crockett, looking shell-shocked, responding “but you’re only 13”.
A week earlier, Riyadh policemen arrested Abu Sin, accusing him of “unethical behavior” and claimed his videos were “enticing” young audiences and inviting “negative attention” from viewers around the world on Saudi Arabia.
Even his arrest was even livestreamed when he was driving his car speaking with a Kuwaiti viewer when a police patrol stopped him.
“His videos received many comments and many of the commenters of the general public demanded he be punished for his actions,” he added, Riyadh Police Spokesperson Col. Fawaz Al-Mayman, told the Saudi Gazette newspaper.
If convicted, Abu Sin could face up to three years in prison.
Mixed media reactions
The recent events surrounding his arrest have received a mix of reactions from both liberal and conservative Saudis.
So much so that two of the kingdom’s most prominent writers - Abdulrahman al-Rashed and Mshari al-Thaydi - took opposing sides of the debate through their columns and on Twitter, suggesting the topic was no local matter but a national one.
“The question of Abu Sin begs a bigger question about the level of the upbringing of children with certain values in the Kingdom. Children as young as seven or eight are now publishing their own content after watching Abu Sin’s videos online,” Thaydi wrote.
Al-Rashed disagreed with the arrest and wrote strongly against the Riyadh police and Thaydi, saying “I disagree with Thaydi and against the Riyadh police arresting Abu Sin because of his silliness as there is no law prohibiting it. We can’t accept anything but silliness from teenagers and expect them to be grownups.”
Al Arabiya News Channel’s General Manager also joined the debate, saying: “We are confronting a big problem and proof of that is the discussion between two prominent writers on a subject which some believe is insignificant.”
Saudi Youth join the debate
The disparity in opinions has also trickled down to the youth, who, while some sympathized with Abu Sin still believed it was a mix of external factors that needed to be addressed.
“I can’t judge those people because I do not know their background history. However, what I believe is that social media today is intervening in the public’s privacy,” Saudi journalist Shahad Alhamdan at the Saudi Gazette told Al Arabiya English.
“I also believe that us, the audiences, gave those people the chance to act the way that they are acted since we keep watching and following them, especially that they were not necessarily giving us any content of substantial value,” she added.
While Alhamdan was more empathic toward Abu Sin, her Saudi male counterpart was not.
“The trend of abusing social media with unnecessary and immoral actions has been on the rise. Abu Sin is not the first to abuse it and get arrested for it, mind you,” Saudi journalist Majed al-Turki told Al Arabiya English.
Before Abu Sin’s arrest, another YouNow Saudi vlogger Majed al-Anizi became famous for using the platform in a similar matter. He was arrested after posting a sarcastic sketch with a younger user and was accused of “perversion of character” and child abuse.
“Their arrests have come at a good time in order to stop influencing our younger generation from following the two,” Turki added.
Another young Saudi journalist conferred: “Abu sin and Majed Al-Anizi are teenagers and gave a bad representation of the Saudi people. They were trying to be famous but it was done through bad ways because of their unsuitable speech in front of their fans, some of whom are young children kids who shouldn’t hear bad language or behavior,” KSA9 News Channel editor Abdullah al-Zahrani told Al Arabiya English.
Another Saudi told Al Arabiya English - under condition of anonymity - that he believed the recent arrests were in violation of each person’s freedom of speech and expression.
“These are young guys who jumped on the bandwagon of YouNow and vlogging in order to gain some fame. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If there was a major problem with their actions, they can be warned with pledges not to repeat them,” Jassim (not his real name) told Al Arabiya English.
“You have to understand that in the past, there were solid red lines drawn and us youth knew not to cross. These days, those lines have shifted but you never know when you’re stepping on people’s toes or not,” he said.
On her part, Christina Crockett broke her silence nearly a week after the arrest after the controversy was addressed by YouTube stars Scarce and Philip Defranco.
She said that it was not her place to get Abu Sin out of prison. “I don’t want to get myself involved or in trouble. Obviously I hope he doesn’t go to prison for that long, especially for three years that is way too much,” she said.
“Obviously I feel a little guilty that this happened because I was involved but there’s not much I can do about it,” she added. “But it’s not my fault that he got in trouble and that he got this famous from it.”SHOW MORE