By Sana Panjwani
What started as a simple platform dedicated to sharing fleeting moments with friends has quickly evolved into a popular global platform with far more potential than first realized.
Snapchat has come a long way since it initial stages, from sharing simple snaps to a medium for news and entertainment through Live Stories and Discover, attracting millions of users from across the globe and opening itself up to bigger and better business ventures.
Launched last year, Snapchat’s “live” stories feature allows users to view or contribute videos and pictures on a live stream from a different location that disappears after a short period of time. These reels were initially only broadcast from within US cities, allowing residents to collectively feature in one reel for other users to view across the world. The feature has now evolved to including cities from across the globe in addition to featuring popular global events including parades, functions and festivals like Independence Days and music festivals. The company says its platform receives more than 2 billion views a day.
Like any media, Snapchat too has an effect on the public. Besides being a simple, addictive chat app, the platform has transformed into a powerful tool for raising cultural awareness, offering a window into the lives of random citizens and thereby providing users with a more accurate portrayal of culture as opposed to the stereotypical and media-packaged version that is often displayed through mass media.
Take the hijab, for instance.
There is plenty of controversy surrounding the hijab, from questions of forced religious practice and oppression of women to racism and how it affects Muslim women every day.
Yasmeen, a 19-year-old Muslim living in California, decided to use the app in an effort to enlighten people about hijabi lifestyle by humorously challenging the stereotypes and answering questions about hijabi lifestyle.
One particularly popular “Live Story” from the region was that from the Saudi city of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed, during Ramadan on the night of Laylat al-Qadr, a blessed night of worship and prayer in Islam. The 300-second “live” story reel documented prayers in the sacred city giving everyone in the non-Muslim world the opportunity to appreciate its unique religious traditions and show an unbiased side of Islam – one unblemished by notions of violence and terrorism.
This specific reel – like many other popular locations – came as a result of a social media campaign with people lobbying for their city to be the next featured city.
“They always say New York never sleeps. They haven’t seen Mecca yet! We want #mecca_live please,” tweeted one Saudi.
Every year, more than 100 million Muslims travel to the Saudi city to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, performed once in a Muslim’s lifetime, and the Umrah pilgrimage which can be performed any time of the year. Using the hashtag #Mecca_live, more than a million people tweeted their own images and video clips, celebrating the ‘live’ feed and showcasing the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
The reaction from both Muslims and non-Muslims to the Live Story was wildly positive, praising the social media platform for opening a much-needed digital platform to Mecca for millions of people around the world.
— Ali Hussain (@aly_husein) July 14, 2015
This unique type of coverage did more than just bring positive attention to Mecca and the traditions that take place within the holy city. It created an avenue to change the negative global narrative surrounding Islam by breaking down stereotypes and offering people around the world a rare, beautiful glimpse into Mecca, especially for non-Muslims who are not allowed to enter the city.
Through its remarkable reach, Snapchat allows users to widen their immediate circle of contacts and expand their awareness of the lives, cultures and situations of people around the world, not just through the news, but thanks to Snapchat, through one-on-one interactions.
— Ayah. (@AyahAlaa) August 4, 2015