TikTok grows in GCC despite global controversy

TikTok grows in GCC despite global controversy
the most popular TikTok influencers in the GCC have emerged on the platform itself rather than crossing over from more established social media channels, such as Instagram. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 September 2020

TikTok grows in GCC despite global controversy

TikTok grows in GCC despite global controversy

Short-form mobile video platform TikTok is seeing phenomenal growth across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with the app ranking among the top downloads in regional Apple and Google Play Stores despite the controversy surrounding the Chinese-owned platform in the US and elsewhere.

TikTok App Store Rankings, August 1, 2020

Country

Apple App Store

Google Play Store

UAE

6

3

Bahrain

8

5

Kuwait

6

6

Oman

4

3

Qatar

6

7

KSA

3

5

                                            Source: similarweb.com

The region’s top content creators are continuing to grow their follower base and generate fan engagement.

Latest figures from analytics and technology consultancy Anavizio, which has been tracking TikTok’s growth in the GCC throughout this year, shows that new influencers on the platform are enjoying phenomenal fan growth, with a number of top content creators from Saudi Arabia and the UAE increasing their fanbase by a million or more between February and August. This includes influencers such as UAE-based Sarahh Miladd (@sarahhmiladd), who has seen her fanbase surge from 4 million in February to 6.6 million as of mid-August, with an average of 126,000 hearts and 2,000 comments per video.

Influencers in other GCC countries, while perhaps not seeing the same follower growth numbers in absolute terms due to smaller fanbases, are nevertheless seeing incredible growth in percentage terms.

TikTok Follower Growth (select GCC Influencers)

Country

Username

Feb 2020

Jul 2020

Aug 2020

% Change
(Feb-Aug)

UAE

@ jumana_khan_

7,300,000

8,300,000

8,400,000

15%

UAE

@ sarahhmiladd

4,000,000

6,200,000

6,600,000

65%

Saudi Arabia

@ a5_l

1,300,000

2,900,0002

3,000,000

131%

Saudi Arabia

@dooj214

1,200,000

2,400,000

2,600,000

117%

Bahrain

@hamood_90

648,700

1,500,000

1,600,000

147%

Bahrain

@khay.33

396,200

864,200

876,700

121%

Oman

@iqrahussainshaikh

291,700

432,800

549,600

88%

Kuwait

@moon.toon

291,200

325,800

486,300

67%

Kuwait

@lucita_consumisyon

152,600

204,900

260,100

70%

Source: TikTok

As seen from the table above, influencers have continued to increase their fanbase between July and August despite an executive order from the US that could see TikTok banned in the country or the recent prosecution of five TikTokers in Egypt for indecency.

Of note is that the most popular TikTok influencers in the GCC have emerged on the platform itself rather than crossing over from more established social media channels, such as Instagram. This new breed of influencers by and large appears to be younger than on other platforms and more in tune with TikTok’s Generation Z audience.

Beauty industry mogul Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty) is one of the few celebrities or influencers to have successfully crossed over, ranking among the top UAE-based TikTok influencers with 2.1 million followers (although this pales in comparison to her 47 million Instagram followers).

However, this is not for a lack of trying; many GCC celebrities and established influencers have flocked to TikTok over the past year. It may therefore simply be a question of time before the better-known personalities establish themselves on the app. Examples include Saudi Arabian TV personality Lojain Omran (@lojain_omran), with 9 million followers on Instagram compared to 66,000 on TikTok, or Emirati singer Ahlam Al-Shamsi (@ahlamalshamsi), who has 12 million Instagram followers and just under 140,000 on TikTok.

At the same time, the more successful cross-over influencers who have gained a million or more followers on TikTok — such as Huda Kattan, Saudi fashion model Model Roz (@modelroz, 1.4 million TikTok followers) or Emirati internet couple Khalid & Salama (@khalidandsalama, 1.7 million followers on TikTok) — are in a race against the new TikTok stars who remain a step ahead by continuing to rapidly grow their follower base.

However, one must also bear in mind the format and lighthearted nature of content on TikTok. New influencers on the platform are all highly innovative content creators, putting out skits and routines on a range of topics such as fashion, beauty, comedy or dance. While these subjects, particularly fashion and beauty, align with the interests of popular influencers on other platforms, the key is to package the content in a way that appeals to the generally younger audience on TikTok.

Creating the right content and presenting it in new and engaging ways applies as much to brands as it does to celebrities and mainstream influencers. Brands in the GCC region have yet to take to TikTok in a big way, with product promotions making up just 1 percent out of a sample of 8,000 influencer posts analyzed by Anavizio.

TikTok as a whole is popular among Generation Z, whose members have strong notions about such things as brand purpose and who may not necessarily engage with content that is blatantly promotional. Should brands, therefore, wish to capitalize on the TikTok growth trend, they would need to tweak their existing influencer marketing strategy to suit the platform, focusing on whom they want to reach and speaking their language.

At the same time, brands need to allow influencers creative license to create content in their own unique styles, which fans have come to love and expect. While this would need to be done within agreed parameters that protect a brand’s image and reputation, seeking too much control stifles creativity, rendering influencer marketing ineffective and backfiring among the intended audience. On no platform is this more important than TikTok, where success is so tightly linked with creativity.

However, prior to taking the TikTok plunge, the bigger question for brands will be the fate of the platform in the US. While Tiktok’s global problems have not yet had an impact on its usage and growth in the Middle East, it would be prudent for brands to take a wait-and-see approach over the next few months. If, for instance, American companies are banned from dealing with TikTok, as the recent White House executive order suggests may happen, then the app will presumably be removed from the Apple and Google app stores. Such a development would obviously have a worldwide impact irrespective of any given government’s stance on the matter. Nevertheless, that should not stop brands who would otherwise be willing to enter the TikTok fray from starting to think creatively about how to engage on the platform once the time is right.

The research is based on a sample of 8,000 videos posted by the most popular TikTok users — based on follower numbers — in each of the six GCC countries between January 15 and August 15, 2020.


Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
Updated 06 March 2021

Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
  • Report highlights danger Artificial Intelligence can pose; warns of danger to politics, media 

LONDON: In 1938, American filmmaker Orson Welles’ narration of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds” caused panic and pandemonium for listeners in the US who believed the tale to be a public broadcast by the government.

The next day, headlines across newspapers read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” Historical research, however, suggested that the actual panic itself was overstated by the media, as the broadcast itself had few listeners.
Fast-forward to 2021 with the long arms of social media and the internet, what would happen if a video showing US President Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office announcing that he will be striking Iran imminently were to appear? Or if a video showing French President Emmanuel Macron crassly insulting Muslims surfaced?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, called deep learning, which generates images of fake events, known as deepfakes, allows for the creation of a moving image that looks and sounds exactly like Biden or Macron, but isn’t them, to speak and say whatever the creator wants, with most observers unable to tell if it is fake.

“Even before deep fakes, social media has platforms, and the different services have led to some threats on users in our region, especially women and other vulnerable communities,” Mohamed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, told Arab News.
“Deep fakes bring more serious threats to the aforementioned groups, especially if (criminals) want to destroy someone’s reputation — women, especially, are at risk, with them having gained more freedom within different conservative communities, which could see them suffer real damage” he added.

Recently, a series of very convincing TikTok videos showing Actor Tom Cruise doing multiple activities has left millions confused as to whether or not it really is the famous actor. Other known deepfakes show former US President Barack Obama calling his successor Donald Trump a “dipsh*t” and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about stealing users’ private data.
According to a report published last year by University College London (UCL), deepfakes rank as the most serious AI crime threat.
“As the capabilities of AI-based technologies expand, so too has their potential for criminal exploitation. To adequately prepare for possible AI threats, we need to identify what these threats might be, and how they may impact our lives,” author Lewis Griffin stated in the report.

Crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed.

Among the most serious concerns posed by fake content such as deepfakes is that, as they are so difficult to identify, they could be used for all manner of dubious purposes, ranging from discrediting a politician or a public figure to blackmail.
“Unlike many traditional crimes, crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed and for crime to be provided as a service. This means criminals may be able to outsource the more challenging aspects of their AI-based crime,” co-author Dr. Matthew Caldwell stated in the report.
To make matters worse, the rise in convincing deepfakes could in turn play a major role in discrediting major news institutions.
“If even a small fraction of visual evidence is proven to be convincing fakes, it becomes much easier to discredit genuine evidence, undermining criminal investigation and the credibility of political and social institutions that rely on trustworthy communications,” the report stated.
“Social media platforms need to understand the threats and act on them. Unfortunately there is no trust in governments in our region to do the right thing; my assumption is that they will use this to restrict more speech and criminalize it, which will lead to more closure of civic spaces,” Najem said.
The UCL report goes on to note that awareness and changes in people’s behaviors toward the spread and creation of these videos might be the only effective line of defense. While so far many of the videos popping up on social media are fun — of politicians singing and dancing, say, or Nicholas Cage’s face on Wonder Woman’s body — things may take a sharper, darker turn soon.


Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Updated 05 March 2021

Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
  • Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International (SBI) launched an English-language edition of its news website with the aim of reaching the Lebanese diaspora abroad.

“The English-language website will take Lebanon and Beirut’s voice to all the Lebanese diaspora living in Europe or the US,” SBI Chariman and CEO Jerry Maher told Arab News. “It’s for those who can speak Arabic but can’t read Arabic.”

SBI is a Lebanese media outlet that is on a mission to fight corruption and hold accountable the country’s politicians.

“We can share with them the pains the country is going through and allow them to take part in the change that is coming. We want them to be part of the next phase of Lebanon and understand all that is going on in the country.”

The English-language website will also be coupled with a mobile app, similar to the Arabic version. Maher says SBI is planning a French and Spanish version in the future.

“We are focusing on political, economic and social issues on the news website so Lebanese abroad will know exactly what is going on in the country, where the problem is and how they can help solve it,” the SBI founder said.

Maher said the new website will include a “stories” feature similar to other social-media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.


YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
Updated 05 March 2021

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
  • The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules
  • YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months

BANGKOK: YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
In December, it pulled 34 channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. That campaign uploaded content about elections in Myanmar, regional conflicts and news related to the US, China and Malaysia, the company said.
The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it had removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.


Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report
Updated 04 March 2021

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report

Gaming, tech mergers, acquisitions on rise in 2020: New report
  • There were 702 mergers and acquisitions agreements announced in 2020

DUBAI: Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the technology, media, and telecom (TMT) market last year bounced back from the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with deals worth nearly $1 trillion.

There were 702 M&A agreements announced with a transaction value greater than or equal to $50 million in the global TMT sector in 2020, according to data and analytics company GlobalData.

Its latest report, “M&A in TMT – 2020 Themes,” revealed that the combined transaction value of $903 billion was a 25 percent increase on 2019, when there were $723 billion worth of deals.

The second quarter (Q2) of 2020 saw just 103 M&A deals in the sector – the lowest quarterly deal count in the last five years – but volume rebounded to 230 in Q3 and 222 in Q4, making the second half of the year the highest in terms of both number and value of deals in the last five years.

In 2020, the total value of M&A deals in the TMT sector was the highest in America (including North, Central, and South America) reaching $492 billion, while it was the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at around $13 billion.

In the MENA region, Israel led with 11 deals with a transaction value of $6 billion, followed by Turkey at $2.6 billion.

Snigdha Parida, analyst for thematic research at GlobalData told Arab News: “The key themes driving the M&A activity in terms of number in the MENA region are gaming, big data, and connectivity.

“M&A in the gaming sector has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic globally with 130 percent year-on-year growth and has the same effect in MENA as well.”

Gaming leads the way with four deals valued at more than $50 million in the MENA region. The biggest deal among these was in the social gaming space where Zynga acquired Peak Oyun Yazilim ve Pazarlama for $1.8 billion.

The other prominent themes were e-commerce and technology. For instance, Collective Growth Corp. acquired Innoviz Technologies for $1.4 billion; Hellman and Friedman bought Checkmarx for $1.1 billion, and EPMG purchased OLX for $1 billion.

“The increase in mobile penetration and prolonged lockdowns with people working from home are driving investment around gaming and connectivity,” added Parida.


Daily Mail owner snaps up New Scientist magazine for $97.8 million

Daily Mail owner snaps up New Scientist magazine for $97.8 million
Updated 03 March 2021

Daily Mail owner snaps up New Scientist magazine for $97.8 million

Daily Mail owner snaps up New Scientist magazine for $97.8 million
  • The purchase comes soon after the British firm agreed to sell its EdTech business, Hobsons

The owner of Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper acquired science and technology magazine New Scientist for $97.80 million in cash, as it looks to build out its subscriptions and digital offerings.
Daily Mail and General Trust said on Wednesday its consumer media division bought the publication from a consortium of investors led by New Scientist owner Bernard Gray.
“New Scientist is a world-renowned publication loved by its readers ... We are very much looking forward to supporting their exciting plans to grow as the go-to publication for anyone interested in the scientific world around us,” DMGT Chairman Jonathan Harmsworth said.
The purchase comes soon after the British firm agreed to sell its EdTech business, Hobsons, in an effort to narrow its focus on a handful of businesses.
New Scientist, founded in 1956, is expected to post an operating profit of about 7 million pounds in 2021, with revenue likely to exceed 20 million pounds, DMGT said.
The publication has a weekly circulation of about 120,000, of which just over half are based in the UK, and gets about 75 percent of its revenue from subscriptions.