Why is Snapchat perpetuating Middle Eastern stereotypes?

Yara al-Wazir

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Over the past few months, a feature from photo-messaging phone app Snapchat, entitled Stories, has been featuring life in cities around the world. Snapchat Stories are user-donated photos and videos mashed together and showcased to millions of app-users around the world. From starting in U.S. cities including New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, the application has added Middle Eastern cities to its roster throughout April, including the Saudi capital Riyadh.

While I realise that the stories are based on user-generated content, the Snapchat team is responsible for filtering through submissions and choosing what to feature. Unfortunately, the filters that have been used paint a picture of men who play with lions in their pools, play and watch football at grand stadiums, drink tea in the middle of the desert, and don’t do anything particularly productive. The beauty of the cities, especially Kuwait and its long scenic coast, is largely ignored. I watched the series of pictures and videos and cringed – why is Snapchat perpetuating Middle Eastern stereotypes?

When I watch the Snapchat stories from around the world, I am left inspired and longing to visit those cities. When I watched one of Kuwait, a country that I spent the majority of my high school years in, I struggled to see how those images would inspire tourism.

I watched the series of pictures and videos and cringed – why is Snapchat perpetuating Middle Eastern stereotypes?

Yara al-Wazir

Here’s what Snapchat could have featured instead.

Arab women who are designers, not Cinderellas

I’m a little bit sick and tired of the perpetuated stereotype of Gulf women in full length black cloaks and colourful shoes Snapchat wasn’t shy of pushing this stereotype, and as entertaining as watching a woman skateboard in Riyadh “as a means to get around,” I know for a fact that there’s more to women in Riyadh.

Arab women aren’t Cinderella’s waiting for their prince charming to slip on the right shoe, they are talented and independent in their own right. We have designers such as Sofia al-Asfoor, and beautiful lines such as Lili Aiya. That’s what needs to be showcased: strong, independent creativity.

Applications for social change

Snapchat Stories from around the world have inspired me to add several cities to the list of places I want to travel. However, it would be very much appreciated if the impact that the application can have on worldwide communities were realised.
Snapchat has the potential to change views, challenge stereotypes, and explore the reality of situations around the world. It can tell the news as it happens. So please, use it to show the world what the Middle East is really like.

Take it to Gaza, take it to Baltimore, and take it to cities that need the attention. In the Middle East, take it to Tunis, Cairo, and Beirut – cities that once had a buzzing tourism industry that is now struggling due to instability. Snapchat, please show the world how beautiful the Middle East is.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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