Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth

Abdullah Alhammadi, Snap’s regional business lead for the Middle East and North Africa
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Updated 07 December 2020

Snapchat responds to positive year with plans for more growth

  • “Digital channels have the ability to deliver more transparency” – Snap’s regional business lead Abdullah Alhammadi

“It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is one of the most interesting markets that all eyes are on for the past five years; it’s one of our biggest economies,” Abdullah Alhammadi, Snap’s regional business lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), told Arab News.

The popular social media app has a massive stronghold in the Kingdom, reaching 17 million people, which includes 90 percent of 13-34 year-olds — an important demographic for advertisers.

The app has had a successful year with revenue increasing by 52 percent in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year, while daily active users grew by 18 percent year-on-year around the world. A significant portion of this growth comes from Saudi Arabia, which is one of Snap’s top markets. Users in the Kingdom are massively engaged, with 90 percent of them engaging with Lenses on a daily basis and watching more Discover content than any of the top ten TV channels.

“Saudi users have adapted to the platform in a way that we find quite interesting because it became part of that social fabric of daily life of an individual Saudi,” Alhammadi said. “While that is exciting for us, it also puts an onus on us to make sure that our app continues to deliver on the promise of wanting to connect people and wanting people to have a medium in the digital world that is comfortable, safe, and away from social pressure.”

Despite the growth in revenue, engagement and users, Snap also reported a 6 percent decrease in average revenue per user, potentially due to its inability to monetize new users. Alhammadi suggested that as Snap expands into new markets and proves its “value proposition” to users, the top priority is to focus on relevance to the user before going into monetization. “That is why you might see that when users increase faster, the revenue might not be (increasing) as fast.”

For instance, Spotlight, which was launched globally last month, is yet to be rolled out in the MENA region, as Snapchat wants to make sure that it has the right content moderation policy implemented ahead of the launch. The new feature encourages vertical video content from creators that are required to submit their Snaps before getting featured.

FAST FACTS

• Snapchat’s monthly addressable reach in the MENA region has grown 38% year over year as of October 2020.

• In Saudi Arabia, Snapchat reaches 90% of 13-34-year-olds.

• Nearly 90% in KSA and over 85% in MENA of Snapchat’s daily users interact with Lenses every day.

• Snapchatters generated over 355,000 hours of AR play time during Saudi National Day 2020.

• In Saudi Arabia, more people watch Snapchat Discover everyday than any of the top ten TV channels, both before and during COVID-19.

Alhammadi doesn’t necessarily believe that the coronavirus disease-instigated acceleration of social media platforms, in particular Snapchat, is likely to slow down as lockdowns lift and normality resumes, because the “value proposition to the user” should not change. On the contrary, as data suggests, new users who may have joined Snapchat during the pandemic are sticking to it even now.

This growth has had brands jumping onto the digital bandwagon much quicker than they normally would have, despite reductions in overall advertising spends and budgets. “While some brands have toyed with the idea of digital investment and innovation, the pandemic turbocharged that entire movement and so they heavily invested,” Alhammadi said.

“As a result, they started seeing the universe of potential integrations that they can do and the impact that they can achieve by doubling down on digital assets and digital advertising.”

For example, Ounass’ Mother’s Day campaign on Snapchat generated a 5.5 times return on advert investment, resulting in a $500 average basket order.

As things start opening up, it would be “interesting to see how this is going to evolve” and how much of the share of digital revenue is going to go back to offline channels, Alhammadi said. He does believe that digital media has an edge because “digital channels have the ability to deliver more transparency and more accurately correlated relationships between spend and return on investment.” 2021 will be an extremely competitive year for not just brands, but also media channels, as everyone tries to recapture or maintain their share of the market.

But, Alhammadi added, “Digital channels are potentially going to secure a significant part of that share because of their ability to be more targeted, more connected with users, and offer a level of innovation that is different from what traditional channels can provide.”

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UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

Updated 21 October 2021

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

  • The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand

LONDON: The UAE climbed three spots from last year’s global Brand Strength Index, beating both the UK and the US, to be ranked 11th among the world’s strongest nation brands. 

Brand Finance gave the UAE a score of 79.1 out of 100, marking “the latest confirmation of the excellence of the Emirati model in strategic planning and development,” according to Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Al-Gergawi.

He told The National: “It confirms the nation’s success in establishing modern, open, transparent and interactive media communication with the public around the world, through which it has been able to present its many inspiring success stories.”

Similar metrics demonstrated a rise in UAE’s economic ranking and financial value.

“The rise in the economic value of the UAE’s national brand from 18th to 17th position this year is a clear indication of the country’s global reputation and competitiveness in various fields,” added Al-Gergawi.

The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

“There is no doubt that achieving 11 percent brand value growth, from $672 billion to $749 billion, is a major achievement in the 50th year of the UAE and underlines how quickly our nation has established its name and global identity as a developed and pioneering country. It is an exceptional success story that will be told to all generations,” Al-Gergawi added. 

Brand Finance, a brand valuation company, measures the relative strength of national brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating brand investment, equity, and performance. 

Andrew Campbell, managing director at Brand Finance Middle East, said that the UAE is “challenging the Western status quo in ranking.” 

He added: “As the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee year, it continues to fly the flag high, promoting the nation’s achievements across the world through ground-breaking initiatives like the Emirates Mars Mission and serving as the gateway to the region by hosting the world for 182 days at Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Not only did the UAE score high on brand strength, but the country also stood out for its COVID-19 response, getting top marks on the influence and business and trade pillars, while also scoring strongly on the education and science pillars. 

While Switzerland continued to dominate the market as the world’s strongest nation brand, other countries took a fall. 

The UK, US, Japan, and France have all fallen out of the top 10 strongest nation brands following perceptions on how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UK fell dramatically from 2nd to 14th position with a score of 77.4, while the US dropped from 4th to 17th with a score of 75.1. 

Despite their brand strength taking a hit, however, these nations all still feature in an unchanged top 10 when ranked by nation brand value.

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Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

  • Facebook is paying a hefty fine to resolve allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs
  • Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently.

WASHINGTON: Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.
Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program, which allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently.
The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire US workers, a group that includes US citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.
Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major US technology companies.
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are US citizens.
“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”
The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.
The government said Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified US workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that it instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters in a telephone conference. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
Facebook also agreed in a separate settlement with the Labor Department to expand its recruitment for US workers and to be subject to ongoing audits to ensure compliance.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it believes it met the government’s standards in its practices. It said it agreed to the settlements to end the litigation and move ahead with its permanent labor certification program — which it called an important part of its “overall immigration program.”
“These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the US and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook says it ended the April-June quarter this year with over 63,400 full-time employees globally and has 3,000 current job openings.
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook last December by the Justice Department under the Trump administration. The alleged violations are said to have occurred from at least Jan. 1, 2018 to at least Sept. 18, 2019.
A $4.75 million fine and $9.5 million in back pay are a trifle for a company valued at $1 trillion with revenue of nearly $86 billion last year. But the announcement comes at a time of intense public discomfort and scrutiny for Facebook.
Public allegations and testimony to Congress from a former Facebook data scientist that the company disregarded internal research showing harm to children have raised a public outcry and calls for stricter government oversight of the company. The former employee, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
The company is also awaiting a federal judge’s ruling in an epic antitrust suit filed against it by the Federal Trade Commission. Calls from critics and lawmakers of both parties to break up the behemoth company are intensifying.


Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Updated 20 October 2021

Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

LONDON: Britain’s competition regulator has fined Facebook 50.5 million pounds ($69.6 million) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the US social media giant’s purchase of GIF platform Giphy, the agency said on Wednesday.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Facebook had deliberately failed to comply with its order, and the penalty served as a warning that no company was above the law.
Facebook said it strongly disagreed.
The CMA said Facebook had failed to provide full updates about its compliance with requirements to continue to compete with Giphy and not integrate its operations with Giphy’s while its investigation was ongoing.
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said, and it therefore considered the failure to comply deliberate.
“We warned Facebook that its refusal to provide us with important information was a breach of the order but, even after losing its appeal in two separate courts, Facebook continued to disregard its legal obligations,” said Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA.
“This should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it is above the law.”
Facebook said: “We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved.
“We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.”


Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

Updated 20 October 2021

Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

  • ‘Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison’
  • Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

ALGIERS: Algerian journalist Rabah Kareche left prison on Tuesday after completing a six-month sentence for “spreading false news,” his newspaper Liberte said.
“Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison” in the country’s desert south, it reported on its website.
An appeals court had sentenced Kareche on October 11 to six months in prison plus six months suspended, a two-month reduction from his original sentence.
His release came as he had already served much of sentence during his trial and appeal.
Kareche was arrested in April after reporting the Tuareg, a Berber minority who have long complained of economic and social marginalization, had protested over “expropriation” of their historical lands.
He was sentenced on August 12 to eight months behind bars plus four months suspended for “spreading false information liable to damage public order.”
He was also accused of posting reports that could trigger “segregation and hatred within society.”
“I’m the victim of a grave injustice,” Liberte quoted him saying as he left prison.
“I did nothing more than my job as a journalist with professionalism.”
Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.


Facebook shuts fake accounts in Sudan, as fight for public opinion rages online

The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy. (File/Twitter)
Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook shuts fake accounts in Sudan, as fight for public opinion rages online

  • Facebook removes two large networks targeting Sudanese users, one of which was linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Earlier this month, Facebook said it had shut a network of almost 1,000 accounts and pages linked to the RSF

CAIRO/KHARTOUM: Facebook says it has shut down two large networks targeting users in Sudan in recent months, as civilian and military leaders spar with one another over the future of an interim power-sharing arrangement.
The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy following 30 years under President Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019.
Facebook said one of the networks of inauthentic pages it took down was linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the other was populated with people who researchers, hired by the civilian government, flagged as supporters of Bashir agitating for a military takeover.
This week, hundreds of protesters set up camp outside the presidential palace demanding that the military overhaul the cabinet, in what would effectively amount to a coup.
Earlier this month, Facebook said it had shut a network of almost 1,000 accounts and pages with 1.1 million followers run by people the company said were linked to the RSF.
The network boosted RSF official media feeds and other content related to the militia, led by powerful General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who is deputy head of the ruling Sovereign Council and seen by some Sudanese as harboring political ambitions.
Representatives for the RSF and Dagalo did not respond to requests for comment. The government had no comment on the RSF-related takedown. Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, denies he is out for personal empowerment and has said in the past that he is committed to the democratic transition to civilian rule.
Facebook’s director of threat disruption, David Agranovich, told Reuters the network was identified by the platform’s own internal investigation.
The company also said it removed a second network in June, after being tipped off by Valent Projects, an independent research firm hired by Sudan’s Information Ministry to look into activity linked to Bashir loyalists.
Facebook said the network comprised more than 100 accounts and pages and had more than 1.8 million followers.
The Sudanese government’s efforts to fight what it describes as ex-regime loyalists working to undermine the transition has not previously been reported.
Loyalists were “working systematically to tarnish the image of the government,” the ministry said in a statement to Reuters, referring to social media posts in the network identified by Valent.
In both networks, posts mimicked news media but offered skewed coverage of political events, according to Facebook and some independent researchers.
Those Sudanese with Internet access — estimated at about 30 percent of the 45 million population — depend heavily on social media for news.
The military-civilian partnership that replaced now-jailed Bashir in 2019 has been pushed to breaking point in recent weeks in the aftermath of what authorities called a failed coup attempt.
Civilian officials have accused both Bashir loyalists and the military of stirring up unrest, including in the east of the country where tribal protesters have been blocking shipping at Port Sudan, exacerbating shortages stemming from a long-running economic crisis.
Military leaders deny the accusations and say they are committed to the transition to democracy.

’AGITATION’
While Facebook says it uses technical signals on its platform to target groups working to mislead users about their identity, researchers like Valent Projects say they rely on analysis of content, noting for example when a single post is shared simultaneously by different accounts.
Valent Projects said the network it identified was more than three times larger than Facebook’s assessment, attracting more than 6 million followers and continuing to grow.
It was active as recently as this week, agitating for a military takeover as protesters gathered in central Khartoum, and last month in the aftermath of the coup attempt, said Valent Projects representatives.
“It looks like they were trying to give the impression of grassroots support for such a move,” said founder and director Amil Khan.
When asked about the differing assessments, Facebook’s Agranovich said the company was confident it had shut down the entire network and that other accounts Valent identified were not connected.
He said Facebook would continue to monitor for any revival of the network.
Some of the network’s posts say Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is not a Muslim and accuse his staff of being paid in dollars, a charge they have denied.
Contributors promote the return of Bashir, jailed on corruption and other charges and wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of atrocities in the Darfur conflict. Bashir has denied all charges.
The network amplified calls for civil disobedience in the east, said Zouhir Al Shimale, Valent Projects’ head of research.
It also promoted protests ahead of the June 30 anniversary of the coup in which Bashir took power in 1989, according to the research firm.
“People in Sudan thought there was just going to be a massive demonstration because they saw so much activity,” said Khan, citing a movement called Akhtona (“Get out of the way“) in local Arabic dialect. In the end some 3,500 people showed up.
Contacted by Reuters, three administrators of pages that Facebook left running denied being part of a network.
“The ruling bodies today categorize any criticism of their oppressive policies and poor economic and political management as being related to the former regime,” said one of them, who declined to be identified.
The information ministry said it took no legal measures against the pages or administrators. “The Sudanese government is committed to protecting freedom of expression,” it said.
Two takedowns previously announced by Facebook, in December 2020 and May 2021, targeted accounts boosting Dagalo and the RSF, according to researchers at Stanford Internet Observatory and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
In both networks Facebook said it found links to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), the officially defunct group accused of meddling in the 2016 US elections.
Anna Bogacheva, who the United States accused of carrying out IRA operations to interfere with elections and political processes, declined to answer questions about IRA when reached by phone.
Agranovich said the most recently targeted network linked to the RSF did not reveal foreign links, and appeared part of a growing trend of domestic influence operations.