With the recent Sondos Alqattan incident, the conversation about the social responsibility of influencers has been buzzing all over the region.
The question of whether or not those who’ve amassed huge followings on social media should uphold a certain level of social awareness is anything but new. Internationally, many have received backlash after making any kind of offensive comment—along with the common consequence of brands severing their ties with those viewed as problematic.
January saw the demise of Miroslava Duma, after she posted a note from Kazakhstan-born designer and friend, Ulyana Sergeenko that included the n-word. The Russian style-icon and editor’s post caused an outrage, with everyone from Naomi Campbell to renowned fashion designers publically voicing their anger and outrage at her offensive comments.
The fiasco cost Miroslava her reputation, and subsequently, her job as well. She eventually stepped down from her position at Buro 24/7, the digital media brand she had co-founded in 2011, and even sold her stake in it.
But since the early days of social media, the Arab world hasn’t seen a similar incident take place. Perhaps it’s the fact that influencers from the region have largely been unproblematic—but could it also be that call-out culture has not yet made its way here?
In any case, Alqattan’s recent discriminatory comments towards Filipino labour migrants in Kuwait have proven themselves as a pivotal point in the region’s perceptions of influencers, and a test to the level of social responsibility the Arab world is ready to cast on those who represent them.
Alqattan has stood by her comments, issuing a statement that was not in the least bit apologetic—causing further uproar that ultimately led brands to finally sever their ties with her.
Interestingly however, her 2.3 million followers have seemingly not budged, and shockingly, the blogger has actually amassed more likes to her most recent photos than ever before—begging the question of where the Arab world stands on the issue with labour migration in the GCC.
But while that’s perhaps a question too difficult to answer, one surrounding whether or not influencers themselves feel a responsibility to use their platforms for the greater good is one we decided to tackle. So, we asked some of the region’s most recognized faces where they stand:
How did you react when you saw the video of Sondos:
I was filled with so much anger and I was shocked to see how confidently she spoke. I find it disturbing to see how she justifies and feels entitled to the mistreatment of a human being.
What made me so angry is when the entire world is fighting for gender equality and human rights, women’s right, equal pay, all very big movements –we have a veiled Muslim woman from the GCC opposing to the basic rights of a human being.
Obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I respect that, however, when it’s something as undebatable as a human right, to be able to feel that much ease in sharing such opinions saddens me because of the number of young girls that follow her that might be influenced by it.
Did you publicly voice an opinion about it?
Najla: Yes, I posted it on my Instagram stories and Twitter along with the actual video of her making these statements for people to see that the media isn’t turning her words around but these are direct statements made by her.
Diala: I never publicly speak badly about any influencer but being a journalist, I think I have a social responsibility to voice out what’s right and what’s wrong. I reacted immediately.
Enjy: I did not voice a public opinion about it just because I do not believe I am entitled to criticise somebody else’s opinion. Now I am because I was asked, if I had been asked to speak about it I would have, however, I didn’t think I had the right to go on my IG and talk about it.
Do you think the backlash has been fair, moderate, or underserved?
Najla: Apparently she hasn’t received enough backlash because she still doesn’t believe that those statements she made were inhumane and blatantly ignorant.
Diala: The backlash that she got was actually moderate. What bothers me the most is that other influencers in the region are still choosing not to say a single word because as you know it’s mostly pools of influencers who blindly support one another for the sake of following and not for the sake of general good.
Enjy: I think the backlash has been fair because when you are someone with such a huge following people need to know that it’s not right, that you are talking about humans, you are talking about human right and this is something that again should not be debatable.
Do you think it is your responsibility as public figures to voice opinions on social matters on your platform?
Najla: Definitely, whether you like it or not. If you have a huge audience, you have a major responsibility when voicing your opinion because not only can it harm you and your image, but also the rest of us Middle Eastern influencers. Also, it can even have an impact on people’s lives.
Diala: The fact that we have a platform means we can change policies, we can change laws. We have a voice, it is definitely our responsibility to speak out when something is wrong. This issue personally affects me because I’ve been working for a couple of years now with a foundation in Dubai for Women and children and UN Women to make sure that the voice of the less fortunate is heard on our platforms.
Enjy: Yes, I do believe it is our responsibility to voice our opinions on social matters. It’s important to raise money or awareness for a natural disaster or a war or something along those lines. If it’s for some kind of cult action, then yes, it’s my responsibility, however I stay away from negative opinions, because it’s not the kind of influence I want to have on the people that look up to me.
Do you use your platform to challenge different viewpoints?
Najla: Definitely, I’m very passionate about feminism and I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, speak up for victims or expose abusers.
Diala: Absolutely. I covered this year the UN summit for women, I was the only woman from the Middle east to cover it and unfortunately, there are so many layers we need to raise awareness on. When you have a platform of 2 million followers you naturally have a responsibility towards those who follow you, you cannot say something that’s inhuman and not expect backlash. I posted about Sondos knowing that most of the brands that I have contracts with, work with her also, so I could have jeopardized my contracts as well. But as journalists, we are obliged to speak up.
Enjy: I do use my platform to challenge different viewpoints but I try to keep it light—nothing too political, too religious. It’s all about human interaction, daily life, and raising children. I actually realised the more you incorporate human interaction in your content the better people react. It’s also a way for them to get a better understanding on who you are as a person.
What are some causes that drive you?
Najla: Feminism. I’m very vocal about it on all my platforms.
Diala: Gender inequality. It was the main topic this year at the UN summit. We have the #METOO campaign trending, and it’s our jobs as celebrities and influencers to keep the momentum going and tell the stories that will help change policies.
Enjy: Id’ like to open my own orphanage in Egypt. I want to make a difference in the world through philanthropy. This is why I worked with UNICEF. I want to educate children and give them a brighter future.