Saudi gamer reflects on reaction to his top-trending YouTube video about mental health struggle

Saudi gamer reflects on reaction to his top-trending YouTube video about mental health struggle
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Updated 18 December 2023
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Saudi gamer reflects on reaction to his top-trending YouTube video about mental health struggle

Saudi gamer reflects on reaction to his top-trending YouTube video about mental health struggle
  • The video by Bander Madkhali, username BanderitaX, who has nearly 14m subscribers on the platform, has been viewed almost 11m times since it was uploaded on Jan. 2
  • He told Arab News he received messages of thanks and support from people who had struggled for years with similar issues and finally sought help after watching his video

DUBAI: YouTube’s end-of-year lists highlighting the most popular content in the Middle East and North Africa revealed that the top-trending video in the region this year was one in which Saudi gamer Bander Madkhali, username BanderitaX, shared personal details of his battle with depression.

Madkhali has nearly 14 million subscribers and more than 4 billion total views of his videos on the platform. The video about his mental health journey, which marked a departure from his usual video game-related content, has amassed almost 11 million views since it was uploaded on Jan. 2.

Abdulrahman AlHazmi, Madkhali’s partner manager at YouTube, who has been working with him for four years, told Arab News: “The honesty with which he shared his story on YouTube, with the sole objective of helping others feel less alone, is a testament to the power of community on YouTube.”

He added that the popularity of the video in a region in which mental health issues, particularly among men, continue to be a taboo subject is of particular significance.

“The fact that his video about mental health was the top trending video in MENA for 2023 shows how important this message is,” AlHazmi said.

Madkhali said his motivation for making the video came not only from his own experiences but those of others, including someone he knew who struggled for years before finally seeking help from a psychiatrist and starting to feel better within a few months.

“Instead of struggling for years and being in denial about what you’re going through” people can seek help and “get better through treatment, or even taking the right medication,” Madkhali told Arab News.

Still, he admitted he was “incredibly hesitant” and “worried” about talking publicly about mental health for fear of a backlash because “it is such a huge issue and nobody really accepts it.”

He said he mulled over the idea of speaking out for several years before mustering the courage to record and share the video.

“After a few years, I had the confidence to release it; it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Madkhali said.

In the video, he also talks about the effect of his faith and prayers while he was grappling with mental health issues. He said that he was aware that this could be a touchy subject but felt it was important to address it because people who do not accept mental health problems as being real often respond to those struggling with such issues with comments relating to faith and prayers, he said. For example, they might suggest a person is suffering because they do not pray or lack faith, he added.

“There are Sheikhs and Imams who have depression,” Madkhali said, so if strong faith and devotion to prayers could prevent problems, how is it possible that those “who pray, lead prayers and guide people have (mental) illnesses?”

He added: “Faith and prayer are important but it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you pray, fast and believe in Allah, you won’t be affected — just like with diabetes or high blood pressure.”

Madkhali said that his fears about uploading the video were eased when, much to his surprise, it received an overwhelmingly positive response and became the top video in the MENA region.

“I expected a lot of negativity but I was surprised that 90 percent of the comments were positive,” he said.

He received messages of thanks and support from people who had been struggling for years with similar issues and finally sought professional help after watching his video, he added.

In his video, Madkhali offered to donate SR100,000 ($27,000) to help those who want to seek medical help but lack the financial resources to pay for it, and revealed that he was working with his doctor at Saleem Medical Center to offer an 80 percent discount on the cost of the treatment.

“It feels great and is really comforting that I was able to benefit the largest number of people possible through this video,” Madkhali said.

YouTube said its rankings, compiled by the platform’s Trends and Culture team and covering videos, shorts, creators and songs, are based on several factors, including number of views, likes and comments, and how quickly engagement takes place.

The full lists of YouTube’s top ten videos, shorts, creators and songs in the MENA region for 2023 can be found here.


Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
Updated 20 April 2024
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Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  


Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
Updated 20 April 2024
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Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.


Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
Updated 20 April 2024
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Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
Updated 20 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”