Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth

Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth
Abdullah Alhammadi, Snap’s regional business lead for the Middle East and North Africa
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Updated 07 December 2020

Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth

Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth
  • “Digital channels have the ability to deliver more transparency” – Snap’s regional business lead Abdullah Alhammadi

“It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is one of the most interesting markets that all eyes are on for the past five years; it’s one of our biggest economies,” Abdullah Alhammadi, Snap’s regional business lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), told Arab News.

The popular social media app has a massive stronghold in the Kingdom, reaching 17 million people, which includes 90 percent of 13-34 year-olds — an important demographic for advertisers.

The app has had a successful year with revenue increasing by 52 percent in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year, while daily active users grew by 18 percent year-on-year around the world. A significant portion of this growth comes from Saudi Arabia, which is one of Snap’s top markets. Users in the Kingdom are massively engaged, with 90 percent of them engaging with Lenses on a daily basis and watching more Discover content than any of the top ten TV channels.

“Saudi users have adapted to the platform in a way that we find quite interesting because it became part of that social fabric of daily life of an individual Saudi,” Alhammadi said. “While that is exciting for us, it also puts an onus on us to make sure that our app continues to deliver on the promise of wanting to connect people and wanting people to have a medium in the digital world that is comfortable, safe, and away from social pressure.”

Despite the growth in revenue, engagement and users, Snap also reported a 6 percent decrease in average revenue per user, potentially due to its inability to monetize new users. Alhammadi suggested that as Snap expands into new markets and proves its “value proposition” to users, the top priority is to focus on relevance to the user before going into monetization. “That is why you might see that when users increase faster, the revenue might not be (increasing) as fast.”

For instance, Spotlight, which was launched globally last month, is yet to be rolled out in the MENA region, as Snapchat wants to make sure that it has the right content moderation policy implemented ahead of the launch. The new feature encourages vertical video content from creators that are required to submit their Snaps before getting featured.

FAST FACTS

• Snapchat’s monthly addressable reach in the MENA region has grown 38% year over year as of October 2020.

• In Saudi Arabia, Snapchat reaches 90% of 13-34-year-olds.

• Nearly 90% in KSA and over 85% in MENA of Snapchat’s daily users interact with Lenses every day.

• Snapchatters generated over 355,000 hours of AR play time during Saudi National Day 2020.

• In Saudi Arabia, more people watch Snapchat Discover everyday than any of the top ten TV channels, both before and during COVID-19.

Alhammadi doesn’t necessarily believe that the coronavirus disease-instigated acceleration of social media platforms, in particular Snapchat, is likely to slow down as lockdowns lift and normality resumes, because the “value proposition to the user” should not change. On the contrary, as data suggests, new users who may have joined Snapchat during the pandemic are sticking to it even now.

This growth has had brands jumping onto the digital bandwagon much quicker than they normally would have, despite reductions in overall advertising spends and budgets. “While some brands have toyed with the idea of digital investment and innovation, the pandemic turbocharged that entire movement and so they heavily invested,” Alhammadi said.

“As a result, they started seeing the universe of potential integrations that they can do and the impact that they can achieve by doubling down on digital assets and digital advertising.”

For example, Ounass’ Mother’s Day campaign on Snapchat generated a 5.5 times return on advert investment, resulting in a $500 average basket order.

As things start opening up, it would be “interesting to see how this is going to evolve” and how much of the share of digital revenue is going to go back to offline channels, Alhammadi said. He does believe that digital media has an edge because “digital channels have the ability to deliver more transparency and more accurately correlated relationships between spend and return on investment.” 2021 will be an extremely competitive year for not just brands, but also media channels, as everyone tries to recapture or maintain their share of the market.

But, Alhammadi added, “Digital channels are potentially going to secure a significant part of that share because of their ability to be more targeted, more connected with users, and offer a level of innovation that is different from what traditional channels can provide.”


Anti-Arab speech surges on social media during Gaza clashes, survey shows

Anti-Arab speech surges on social media during Gaza clashes, survey shows
Updated 15 June 2021

Anti-Arab speech surges on social media during Gaza clashes, survey shows

Anti-Arab speech surges on social media during Gaza clashes, survey shows
  • Between May 6 and May 21, when clashes with Israel were most severe, hate speech against Palestinians rose dramatically in comparison with the same period in 2020
  • The same period also witnessed widespread censorship of Palestinian posts on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

LONDON: Violent speech directed against Arabs and Palestinians on social media increased 15-fold during the recent hostilities in Gaza, a report has found. 

Between May 6 and May 21 when clashes with Israel were most severe, hate speech against Palestinians rose dramatically in comparison with the same period in 2020, according to the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, or 7amleh.

The center recorded 1.09 million posts on social media platforms, with 16.8 percent containing racism, slurs or incitement against Arabs. 

Among tweets shared widely, one reads: “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” while another reads: “Death to all Arabs.”

Most violent speech (58 percent) took place on Twitter, compared with only 8 percent on Facebook and 1 percent on Instagram.

The same period also witnessed widespread censorship of Palestinian posts on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

7amleh documented 500 cases of digital rights violations of Palestinians, which included content being taken down and accounts being removed.

Tech giants have been the targets of strong criticism from users for censoring Palestinian content.

Facebook was the target of a coordinated social media campaign launched by pro-Palestine activists in an attempt to push down the app’s ranking on Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play.

While Instagram changed the way it displays content after claims of blocking Palestine-related content, other social media giants have been reluctant to take similar steps. 

Instagram said that the “stories” feature was built according to an algorithm that favors original content as opposed to existing and reshared posts. As a result, any Palestine-related content that was reshared from other accounts was pushed lower in the Instagram feed. 

Social media has been crucial for people in the Middle East to document and spread information on destruction of homes, forced displacement and violence. 


UK backlash prompts WhatsApp privacy campaign

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

UK backlash prompts WhatsApp privacy campaign

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
  • WhatsApp announced on Monday the launch of a privacy-centered advertisement campaign in the UK aimed at combatting pressure from governments.
  • The campaign is intended to promote benefits of its end-to-end encryption feature.

LONDON: WhatsApp announced on Monday the launch of a privacy-centered advertisement campaign in the UK aimed at combatting pressure from governments to change the way the platform encrypts messages.

The campaign follows customer criticism against changes to its terms and conditions, announced in early 2021, and is intended to promote benefits of its end-to-end encryption feature.

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, meaning that messages can only be read on the device which sends one and the device which receives it. The platform itself, and its parent company Facebook, cannot view or intercept them. 

In January, WhatsApp announced changes to its terms and conditions which sparked concern from thousands of users who wrongly thought the messaging app would start sharing encrypted messages with Facebook.

The changes, however, were mainly related to enabling companies to accept payments via WhatsApp. 

At the time, WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart took personal responsibility for the confusion the announcement had created.

Since then, however, the end-to-end encryption feature received criticism from the UK government, with Home Secretary Priti Patel describing the use of end-to-end encryption as “not acceptable.”

Patel argued that this feature puts children at risk and offers a hiding place for child-abusers and other criminals.

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services, with many users switching away from WhatsApp in the wake of the policy update confusion.


First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East
Updated 15 June 2021

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East
  • A NFT is essentially a unique digital unit that cannot be replicated

DUBAI: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are all the rage in the art world.

A NFT is essentially a unique digital unit that cannot be replicated. While the high prices that NFT art has commanded have perplexed some, others take pride in owning a unique digital asset that gives them exclusive and permanent rights.

The NFT art market has grown more than 800 percent in just the first four months of 2021, from $52 million in January to a whopping $490 million by the end of April, according to a Business Insider report.

As a result, more artists are looking to create NFT artworks with several agencies and galleries launching specialized divisions to manage digital art.

Dubai-based Behnoode Foundation is due to launch the first-ever NFT digital Islamic art agency in the Middle East, Behnoode Art.

In 2016, Behnood Javaherpour, founder and creative director at Behnoode, launched the foundation, which supports charities in Nepal and Iran. Behnoode Art will partner with the foundation to donate a portion of all auctioned digital artwork to help out-of-school children.

The new agency aims to modernize the artworks of talented Middle Eastern artists and sell its unique digital footprints through live auctions to fine art collectors around the world, Javaherpour told Arab News.

“Art is universal, and my agency allows Middle Eastern, European, and Asian artists to showcase their work all around the world and to shine a spotlight on their incredible talent,” he said.

Behnoode Art is currently working with more than 100 artists who are creating NFT artwork. Its ambition is to make NFT art easy to understand and promote for artists.

“Most of the artists under my current project are not into digital technology, but they have the best talents in the world,” Javaherpour added.

Behnoode Art will serve as a platform for artists who want to make their art available digitally and participate in the agency’s activities throughout the year such as private auctions, collaboration projects, gala events, and other gatherings to sell and promote artwork.

Javaherpour said the agency was working to set up links with Islamic banks and other financial institutions in the region to “create a community that values fine art while integrating modern technology.”

Behnoode Art was expected to officially launch in July.


EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
Updated 15 June 2021

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
  • EU court supports national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms.
  • The ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple.

BRUSSELS: Europe’s top court on Tuesday endorsed the power of national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms even if they are not their lead regulators, in a setback for Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook.

The EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple, which all have their European Union headquarters in Ireland.

Many national watchdogs in the 27-member European Union have long complained about their Irish counterpart, saying that it takes too long to decide on cases.

Ireland has dismissed this, saying it has to be extra meticulous in dealing with powerful and well-funded tech giants.

The CJEU got involved after a Belgian court sought guidance on Facebook’s challenge against the territorial competence of the Belgian data watchdog’s bid to stop it from tracking users in Belgium through cookies stored in the company’s social plug-ins, regardless of whether they have an account or not.

“Under certain conditions, a national supervisory authority may exercise its power to bring any alleged infringement of the GDPR before a court of a member state, even though that authority is not the lead supervisory authority with regard to that processing,” the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) said.

Under landmark EU privacy rules known as GDPR, Facebook faces oversight by the Irish privacy authority because it has its European head office in Ireland.

The case is C-645/19 Facebook Ireland & Others.


YouTube bans masthead ads for politics, alcohol and bets

YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

YouTube bans masthead ads for politics, alcohol and bets

YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
  • Youtube will no longer allow political, election, alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs ads at the top of the site's homepage.
  • The change to its most prominent ad unit was effective immediately, said Google.

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube will no longer allow political or election ads in its coveted masthead spot at the top of the site’s homepage nor ads for alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs, it said on Monday.

In an email to advertisers, seen by Reuters, YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. It said it has retired these full-day reservations, like the one then-President Donald Trump reserved to dominate its homepage on Election Day 2020, and replaced them with more targeted formats.

“We regularly review our advertising requirements to ensure they balance the needs of both advertisers and users,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We believe this update will build on changes we made last year to the masthead reservation process and will lead to a better experience for users,” they added.

Google said that the change to its most prominent ad unit, which was first reported by Axios, was effective immediately.

Google paused political ads altogether around the US presidential election and again ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January this year, citing its policy over sensitive events.