Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. (File/Twitter)
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In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. (File/Twitter)
Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers
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Amira Ubaida Sanchez. (Supplied)
Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Nallely Khan. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers

Muslim women in Latin America becoming online influencers
  • ‘I am combating religious intolerance with my work,’ Mariam Chami tells Arab News
  • ‘Most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,’ expert tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: With millions of views, videos in which Latin American Muslim women talk about their faith and show their personal lives have become more and more common on social media over the past few years.

In a region where Christianity is still seen as the norm, Islamic influencers face great challenges to succeed in the digital sphere. 

Some of them are managing to do it, with creativity, charisma and humor. One such influencer is Mariam Chami, a 31-year-old nutritionist from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. 

The daughter of a Lebanese father and a Brazilian mother who converted to Islam, Chami was educated in a Muslim school and only felt the weight of wearing a hijab in a Catholic-majority country in adulthood.

“In the beginning, I made videos for Muslim girls who didn’t have much knowledge about religion,” she told Arab News.

“But then I started to produce content with the goal of explaining Islam and reducing the prejudices that Brazilians have against Muslims.”

On TikTok, where she is followed by 1.1 million people, Chami discusses controversial topics for a very liberal country like Brazil such as burkinis — the clip where she wore one had more than 900,000 views — or why her sister-in-law, who is also Muslim, does not wear a hijab. Chami does all that with humor.

“I’ve been supported by my community and by religious leaders,” she said. “Given that I reach many people, I am — along with other Muslim influencers — combating religious intolerance with my work, and making more people admire our religion.”

One of Chami’s concerns is to show that Muslim women are not the oppressed victims of men, something that comes to mind among many Latin Americans when they see a woman wearing a hijab. Feminist movements in Brazil still cultivate that kind of prejudice, she said.

“I believe feminism is selective: It struggles for a woman’s right to be whatever she wants, but if she decides to be Muslim and wears her (Islamic) garments, she’s put aside and oppressed by those (feminist) women,” she added.

Colombian lawyer and digital influencer Amira Ubaida Sanchez also tries in her videos to deal with the most common misconceptions about Muslim women in her country.

“Me and my sister studied law together. Seeing us with a hijab, people in the university would frequently ask us, with an expression of surprise, if we as Muslim women are allowed to study,” she told Arab News.

In her work as an attorney, the 24-year-old usually represents Christian Colombian women who have been abandoned by their partners with their children and no money.

The daughter of a Colombian man who converted to Islam 40 years ago and became a Muslim leader in Bogota, she received a religious education that she now uses to convey complex messages in two-minute clips. 

On TikTok, her account @conelvelo — “with the headscarf” in Spanish — has 43,600 followers. 

Her father, Imam Carlos Sanchez, said: “I’ve never told any of my daughters to do this or that. Amira decided for herself to talk about Islam, which she does with great competence. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Making Islam known in Latin America is not an easy task, he added. Until the end of the 20th century, Catholicism was the official religion in countries such as Colombia. 

Cultural differences also complicate Latin Americans’ understanding of Islamic concepts.

That is why Amira always uses straightforward language and includes funny elements in her videos.

“Many people want to disseminate Islam in Latin America, but they talk about ‘sunnah’ and ‘hadith,’ and nobody knows what those words mean here,” she said.

Nallely Khan, a 30-year-old Mexican who lives with her Muslim husband in India, said it is not easy to deal with Islamic issues on the internet for a Latin American audience.

“My goal isn’t so much to discuss Islam, but to show the way of living that we have, our daily life. At times I have to explain religious matters, and Latin Americans may disagree,” she told Arab News. “Some people don’t like Islam.”

Khan was born in a Catholic family but converted to Islam as a teenager. She said it was difficult to find materials about it in Mexico, but “now we have many organizations working on the dissemination of Islam in the country.”

Her YouTube channel Nana India Vlogs has 147,000 subscribers. She mainly portrays her life in India with her family, with a focus on the cultural differences with Mexico. But the Islamic dimension can be seen in many of her videos. 

Her biggest hit until now has been the series “India and my love story,” in which she describes how she converted to Islam, how she met her husband, and how she discovered that he had a first wife only after their marriage (the woman ended up divorcing him). The three videos have had more than 2.5 million views. 

“I don’t consider myself to be an influencer because I know I’m not a perfect person. I always try to become a better Muslim,” she said.

“I just hope to keep showing my life, my family, and the fact that Muslims lead normal lives.”

According to Arely Medina, a professor of social sciences specializing in Islam in Latin America at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, the emergence of Muslim women as digital influencers in the region is part of a “strategy of presence in the public space.”

She told Arab News: “Over time, women developed different ways of making themselves visible on the street. This way, people would know them and see that they aren’t repressed women only because of their religion.” The same dynamic is happening now online.

“Of course the audience can stigmatize them, but I think most viewers look for such videos with curiosity and the wish to learn,” she added.

Medina said the internet has been a fundamental tool for young people interested in Islam in Mexico and other Latin American countries that until recently did not have large Muslim communities. 

“Twenty years ago, many young people who wished to learn about Islam were only able to do so by chatting with Muslims from other countries and searching for online content about it,” she added.

Some would even convert to Islam this way, with the help of Muslims by phone or online chats — a process Medina calls “autonomous conversion.”

Now, she said, “women who discovered Islam with the help of the internet are using it to talk about Islam to large audiences.”

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network
Updated 5 sec ago

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network
NEW YORK: CNN has canceled its weekly “Reliable Sources” show on the media, and said Thursday that its host, Brian Stelter, is leaving the network.
The show will have its last broadcast this Sunday.
CNN has been looking to cut costs but also to put forth a less opinionated product. Stelter has written a book, “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” and been critical of Fox News, making him a frequent target of the CNN’s conservative critics.
Stelter came to CNN from The New York Times, where he was a media writer.
“He departs CNN as an impeccable broadcaster,” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development at CNN. “We are proud of what Brian and his team accomplished over the years, and we’re confident their impact and influence will long outlive the show.”
Stelter said that he was grateful for his nine years at CNN, proud of the show and thankful to its viewers.
“It was a rare privilege to lead a weekly show focused on the press at a time when it has never been more consequential,” he said. “I’ll have more to say on Sunday.”
The “Reliable Sources” newsletter, a daily compendium of the media’s big stories, will continue and will be led by CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy.

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games
Updated 32 min 3 sec ago

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games

From Wordle and beyond: The rise of word games
  • The New York Times upgrades Wordlebot assistant, a ‘daily companion’ to analyze performance
  • Over the past year dozens of spinoffs have sprung up across the Internet

LONDON: The New York Times announced it has upgraded its Wordle assistant, Wordlebot, introduced earlier this year as a “daily companion” to help analyze your Wordle performance.
With the new update, The New York Times added a number of new features, such as the addition of “slate” to Wordlebot’s list of starting words, a new method of “scoring skills” and modifications to the way the bot restricts its analysis to the group of five-letter words that are known Wordle solutions, which according to the company “puts it on a more even footing with humans.”
Wordle is (arguably) the undisputed game of the year. Every day, users try to guess a chosen five-letter word within six tries. The app has become a daily ritual for millions of users worldwide.
The game is a perfect mix of simplicity, fun and genuine competition. Rachel Orr, a senior design editor at The Washington Post, described Wordle as the “perfect pandemic game” for its ability to absorb our attention through the “pattern-seeking custom it humbly provides.”
Thanks to its “lack of ads, simple interface and a heartwarming origin story,” the daily word guessing game drew millions of players in its brief existence, convincing The New York Times to buy it for an undisclosed seven-figure sum last January.
Since then, a number Wordle spinoffs have sprung up across the Internet, including Worldle, Heardle and even an Arabic version, AlWird, giving rise to an entirely new genre of guessing games.
Among the latest additions to the genre is GuessThe.Game, a Wordle-style deduction test based on video games.
GuessThe.Game was developed by Sam Stiles, a Canada-based software engineer who created the game based on Framed, another Wordle-style game where players guess a mystery movie of the day by viewing still shots. Stiles realized that the same concept could be applied to video games.
“So I decided to whip one up,” Stiles said.
Since its debut in May, Stiles claimed that millions of people had played GuessThe.Game in “nearly every single country on Earth,” and that given the volume of daily traffic, “the game continues to expand virally.”
But Stiles is not the only person to have developed a Wordle-style game during his spare time. The list of spinoffs is long and spans across many different topics and subjects.
For example, Wordle aficionados can choose between Wordle Unlimited, an almost unlimited version of the real game; Quordle, where you are required to solve four Wordles at once; Dordle, where you play with two puzzles; and also Octordle and Sedecordle.
There is also Worldle, a geography guessing game where players are shown the outline of a country and have to guess which one it is; Heardle, the Wordle-style game for music lovers; and Nerdle, a maths game developed by data scientist Richard Mann with help from his daughter and son.
Environmentalists can try A Greener Wordle, which gives climate change-related answers; Airportle instead is designed for frequent flyers who want to test their knowledge of the three-digit airport IATA code; and there is even a game for Taylor Swift fans called Taylordle, where you guess practically anything related to the US pop star.
For the joy of players, new Wordle-style games are popping up every day, with Wordle-mania showing no signs of slowing down.
Even though the majority of Wordle-style games have humble origins and were intended as pure entertainment, some developers do not hide their desire to replicate the Wordle fairytale and cash in.
“In an ideal world, it ends up getting acquired by some brand or publication,” Stiles said, expressing confidence that someday “someone may come along and want to have their brand name associated with it like (Wordle and Heardle) did.”

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity
Updated 18 August 2022

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity

FBI raid causes Trump’s social media app to surge in popularity
  • Since the raid, Truth Social enjoyed unexpected popularity, with users taking to the platform to express anti-FBI sentiments

LONDON: Donald Trump’s social media app Truth Social has picked up steam following the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate.

In the days after the FBI search, the number of downloads of Truth Social spiked, taking the app from 66th to 15th place in the Apple App Store.

The download numbers are small compared to previous figures but have helped to revive the app.

The platform was officially launched this year on Feb. 21 amid intense criticisms on the App Store, but many users were put on a waiting list and were unable to sign up until later.

After a sluggish start, Truth Social has gained a small but devoted user base, most of whom are committed to Trump.

Trump founded Truth Social after being banned from Twitter for his comments made after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol Hill attack, when his followers stormed the US seat of government in Washington DC.

Since Trump’s Twitter account was suspended, the former president has taken to Truth Social to share his thoughts, spread propaganda and promulgate misinformation, including about the FBI raid.

Earlier this month, the FBI burst into the former president’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida looking for classified documents the agency believes were taken after his time in office came to an end.

Many Truth Social fans have taken to the platform to express their anger about the FBI with some users — including one who is believed to have carried out an attack on a bureau office — issuing threats to FBI agents and to Judge Bruce Reinhart.

In the last few days, Trump continued to rage on Truth Social, claiming both that “Republicans could win many additional seats, both in the House and Senate, because of the strong backlash over the raid at Mar-a-Lago” and that the FBI “stole my three passports (one expired), along with everything else.

“This is an assault on a political opponent at a level never seen before in our Country. Third World!” he added.

According to Similarweb, a digital intelligence platform, both the Truth Social app and website have experienced an increase in popularity since the raid.

Anti-FBI sentiments have built among users, and hashtags like #FBIcorruption, #Truth, and #DefundTheFBI have been trending on the platform, which shares many of Twitter’s features, during the past 10 days.

Similar posts are widespread among Trump supporters on other free speech websites like Gab, Parler, and GETTR, as well as the secure messaging service Telegram, and are not exclusive to Truth Social.

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
Updated 18 August 2022

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
  • Demand for software to record, archive messaging on the rise
  • Continued remote working underscores risk of compliance missteps with banks paying hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory fines

LONDON: Asset managers are tightening controls on personal communication tools such as WhatsApp as they join banks in trying to ensure employees play by the rules when they do business with clients remotely.
Regulators had already begun to clamp down on the use of unauthorized messaging tools to discuss potentially market-moving matters, but the issue gathered urgency when the pandemic forced more finance staff to work from home in 2020.
Most of the companies caught in communications and record-keeping probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been banks — which have collectively been fined or have set aside more than $1 billion to cover regulatory penalties.
But fund firms with billions of dollars in assets are also increasing their scrutiny of how staff and clients interact.
“It is the hottest topic in the industry right now,” said one deals banker, who declined to be named in keeping with his employer’s rules on speaking to the media.
Reuters reported last year the SEC was looking into whether Wall Street banks had adequately documented employees’ work-related communications, and JPMorgan was fined $200 million in December for “widespread” failures.
German asset manager DWS said last month it had set aside 12 million euros ($12 million) to cover potential US fines linked to investigations into its employees’ use of unapproved devices and record-keeping requirements, joining a host of banks making similar provisions, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Sources at several other investment firms — described in the financial community as the ‘buy-side’ — including Amundi, AXA Investment Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management, told Reuters they have deployed tools to keep all communications between staff and clients compliant.
Spokespeople for the SEC and CFTC declined to comment on whether their investigations could extend beyond the banks, but industry sources expect authorities to cast their nets wider across the finance industry and even into government.
Last month Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s top data protection watchdog, called for a review of the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the pandemic.
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones.
This practice is designed to deter and uncover infringements such as insider trading and “front-running,” or trading on information that is not yet public, as well as ensuring best practice in terms of treatment of customers.
But with thousands of finance workers and their clientele still working remotely after decamping from company offices at the start of the pandemic, some sensitive conversations that should be recorded remain at risk of being inadvertently held over informal or unauthorized channels.
Brad Levy, CEO of business messaging software firm Symphony, said concerns on managing that risk had driven a surge in interest for software upgrades that make conversations on popular messenging tools including Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp recordable.
“Most believe the breadth of these investigations will go wider as they go deeper,” Levy said.
“Many markets participants have retention and surveillance requirements so are likely to take a view, including being more proactive without being a direct target.”
He said Symphony’s user base has more than doubled since the pandemic to 600,000, spanning 1,000 financial institutions including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Symphony peer Movius also said its business lines specializing in making WhatsApp and other tools recordable have more than doubled in size in the space of a year, with sales to asset managers a growing component.
“Many on the buy-side have recognized that you can’t just rely on SMS and voice calls,” said Movius Chief Executive Ananth Siva, adding that the company was also seeking to work with other highly-regulated industries including health care.
Movius software integrates third-party communications tools such as email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp into one system that can be recorded and archived as required, he said.
Amundi, AXA IM, BNPP AM and JPMorgan Asset Management all confirmed they had adopted Symphony software but declined to comment on the full breadth of services they used or when these had been rolled out.
Amundi and AXA IM both confirmed they used Symphony services for team communications, while AXA IM also said they used it for market information.
Amundi, BNPP AM and JP Morgan AM declined to comment on whether they thought regulators would seek to investigate record keeping at asset managers after enforcement actions against the banks were completed.
A spokesperson for BNPP AM said it had banned the use of WhatsApp for client communications due to compliance, legal and risk considerations including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
Updated 17 August 2022

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
  • ‘Young, vibrant’ MENA population bucks trend with streaming surge

LONDON: A new Ofcom report released on Wednesday found that young people in the UK watch almost seven times less TV than people aged over 65.

The UK’s communications regulator said that the “generation gap” in the way media is consumed has reached an all-time high.

Brits aged 16-24 reportedly favor streaming platforms and social media over traditional broadcast TV and spend an average of 53 minutes per day watching TV — a decrease of two-thirds over the past decade.

“The streaming revolution is stretching the TV generation gap, creating a stark divide in the viewing habits of younger and older people,” said Ian Macrae, Ofcom director of market intelligence.

“Traditional broadcasters face tough competition from online streaming platforms, which they’re partly meeting through the popularity of their own on-demand player apps, while broadcast television is still the place to go for big events that bring the nation together, such as the Euros final or the Jubilee celebrations,” he added. 

However, the latest market study undertaken by Arabsat in conjunction with Ipsos in 2021 found that TV viewership in the Middle East and North Africa region “boasts a young, vibrant,and diverse community” with 45 percent of viewers aged under 30.

This trend, in stark contrast with the Ofcom report, illustrates “the strong sustainable relevance of satellite TV also amongst younger TV audiences in MENA.”

Ofcom attributed the decline in TV viewership among young people in the UK to the rise in popular streaming services and short-form video platforms.

In its report, the regulator said about one in five UK homes have a subscription to all three of the biggest streaming services: Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

The regulator also warned that public sector broadcasters will continue to experience declines in viewership over the coming years.

MENA’s streaming industry has been “rapidly increasing,” according to an independent study by market research firm Dataxis. The region’s streaming platforms saw a 30 percent increase in subscribers between 2020 and 2021, reaching close to 10 million users in 18 countries.

By 2026 subscriptions in the region are expected to triple to close to 30 million.

However, the Arabsat report said: “Satellite TV continues to remain the strongest mode of content distribution in the region, with 93 percent total market share.”