Rarely has the world been more connected than it is today. And rarely have there been more opportunities to shed light on cultures than through today’s social media. This summer, the spotlight fell on Arab youth and Middle Eastern cultures.

Snapchat, a popular social media app built on the exchange of short-lasting photos or videos, recently launched a “Live Story” function. A “Live Story” focuses on one single city in the world, and allows anyone in that city to upload a video or photo and to be featured together in a common and public Live Story.

Although the Live stories initially only included American cities, the high demand and large number of users in the Middle East soon led them to include several of the region’s major cities, such as Abu Dhabi, the West Bank, and Doha. But the one that received the most positive attention was the Live Story from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The city was chosen after a hugely popular Twitter campaign demanding live coverage from Mecca with the hashtag #Mecca_Live. Featured during Ramadan and the holy evening of Laylat al-Qadr, Snapchat allowed the non-Islamic world an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the holy city, worshippers and unique religious traditions through individually created messages.

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Via Business Insider

The reactions to the Live Story were hugely positive among both Muslims and non-Muslims, all praising Snapchat for their relatable and intimate cultural awareness initiative.

Another popular city, featured as a Live Story this week, was Manama, where Snapchatters showed off foods (and how to cook them in the Bahraini sun), sports, and the historical heritage of the Bahraini city.

Live stories present Snapchat users with an opportunity to explore the normality of lives in the featured city. Not only do the Live stories usually include widely popular concepts such as funny clips, selfies and shots of food, but they also present the uncensored lives of youth by allowing users to construct the image that they want the world to see. Snapchat lets users communicate without a censoring or editing middle-hand, introducing a unique platform to re-shape stereotypes and spread positive images.

There is great hope that Snapchat will continue their initiative, and that upcoming cities might include Cairo, Beirut and Tunis.

Keep an eye out for more Snapchat stories and more opportunities to explore the real Middle East!

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