By Salam Bustanji
Influencers from various Western countries have been promoting Saudi Arabia on social media platforms. This trend raises the question, are they getting paid to spread Saudi propaganda? Or is the conservative Kingdom finally welcoming different cultures?
One social media activist expressed her concerns regarding the issue in a Tweet thread.
This thread was after my discovery of this vlog video. It is clearly indicated by her that this trip to #Saudi was paid for due to her status as a (wealthy) influencer. She mentions that other influencers were being brought in at same time, too. https://t.co/eLo4xtAOAk— Nora Abdulkarim نورة الدعيجي (@Ana3rabeya) November 6, 2019
I remember seeing her at the gala... she came at the same time as these and many others: pic.twitter.com/Wd05P33c1X— Vivian Nereim (@viviannereim) November 6, 2019
On her Twitter account, Nora argues that these influencers show Saudi Arabia in a totally different perspective that it is in reality. She complains that their representation of her home is distinctly unfamiliar to her.
In recent months, YouTube has witnessed a large number of Western YouTubers vlogging about their trips to Saudi Arabia. Here are a few examples of the trend:
Some defended the campaign, pointing out that paying influencers to promote tourism is not uncommon.
There is nothing wrong with having people from the outside come to a place and advertise what it can offer and where they can enjoy themselves. All countries do that!! They use something called commercials in order to prompt tourism. U don’t seem to see anything wrong with that?— مها?? (@fem_side) November 7, 2019
In addition to the strikingly large number of Western influencers who are promoting the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia has been putting a massive effort into increasing tourism by creating an international festival called Riyadh season.
At the end of Septemeber Saudi opened its doors to tourists, allowing foreigners from dozens of countries to apply for an e-visa or visa on arrival. Visiting the country had historically been very difficult if not impossible before this decision came into effect.
But it's not easy to know whether Saudi's new open-door, seemingly relaxed approach is a sign that the Kingdom is finally implementing reform, or if it's all part of a massive propaganda campaign to serve more sinister purposes.
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