Influencers Face Backlash for Saudi-Sponsored Tourism Posts
- As Saudi Arabia opens its doors to leisure tourism, it has promoted itself by giving several popular influencers all-expenses-paid trips to the country.
- Those influencers, who then posted Instagram advertisements of their trips, are facing backlash from online critics who say the posts were tone-deaf to Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues.
- The campaign comes as Saudi Arabia continues to open up the country through tourism and major entertainment acts like BTS.
Influencer Ad Campaign
A group of Instagram influencers and some YouTubers are facing criticism after agreeing to a tourism-inspired ad campaign sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government.
The trips, gifted by Saudi Arabia’s tourism board and travel program called Gateway KSA, are part of a larger effort to open up tourism as the country seeks to lessen its dependence on oil. On Sept. 28, the kingdom began offering travel visas, allowing leisure travel. Historically, the Saudi government has limited access to business and religious travel.
The influencers included Lana Rose, Tara Whiteman, and Alyssa Bossio, all of whom boast over a million followers on Instagram.
“When I was a kid, I used to watch Aladdin,” Lana Rose said in a sponsored post. “Never did I think I could live it too 😍 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦”
Rose then ended her post with the hashtag #WelcomeToArabia and linked to the account VisitSaudi.
Many of the influencers posted photos from a site known as the “Edge of the World,” a dramatic series of cliffs overlooking the desert.
“For all the flat earthers out there, we found the edge of the world! Turns out it’s in Saudi Arabia,” Whiteman said. “Feeling so lucky to be a part of this exciting event, as Saudi Arabia opens its doors to tourists for the first time. This beautiful country has so much to offer. I’m so grateful to be here and to see what’s to come.”
Like Rose, she also tagged the post #WelcomeToArabia and linked to the country’s tourism account; Whiteman also directly tagged the content as an ad.
New York-based Bossio praised the country while addressing its plans to advertise itself as a tourist destination.
“One of my goals for this year was to learn, experience and be open minded about other countries and cultures,” she said. “Every place has such a unique story. Saudi Arabia is opening to tourists from across the world for the first time. There is a lot changing within the country. The hospitality, warmth and vibrant culture has made me appreciate this country and all of its beauty. I was not sure what to expect traveling here, but being here has brought me a new sincere appreciation for this place! 🐫 #WelcomeToArabia”
Other major YouTubers like Caspar Lee and Daniel Supertramp also joined the campaign, Supertramp saying he felt like Indiana Jones after exploring ancient tombs with locals.
Reportedly, Gateway KSA said the influencers can post whatever they want about their trip; however, they were also reportedly not allowed to deviate from their approved itineraries.
While the posts seemed to be an ad campaign aimed at promoting the culture and the natural beauty of the country, many Instagram users were quick to paint a very different story of Saudi Arabia.
Writing in the comments section, those users referred to the April execution of 37 people the Saudi government claimed to be terrorists, though most were reported to be of the Shiite minority.
“Life is not a fairy tale,” one user wrote. “The Saudi government executed 37 people in a single day in April. It systematically brutalizes its own people; needless to say it has a horrible record regarding basic human rights. I will never visit it. Shame on you for normalizing them.”
Another travel blogger by the name of Travellingjezebel wrote, “While the biggest travel bloggers & influencers in the industry are taking money from the Saudi government to showcase the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a good light, let us take a moment to remember how SAUDI bloggers are treated.”
She then discusses Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for talking about religious freedom and women’s rights.
“For a blogger to take money from a government that locks up and tortures its own bloggers and journalists (Raif is not the only one by a long way), it is shameful,” she continues. “Just remember people like Raif when you see these influencers’ glamorous pictures. #welcometoarabia”
Several other users, however, noted the situation in Saudi Arabia but continued to support the influencers associated with the campaign.
Some, including other influencers, then expressed their interest in visiting.
Saudi Arabia Relaxes Travel Visas
The new visa program will allow women to now travel alone without restrictions. Female tourists will also no longer be required to wear all black dress robes called abayas.
All of this is part of a massive change as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s opens Saudi Arabia to previously-banned types of industry and entertainment. Notably, that includes scheduling major acts like Nicki Minaj, BTS, and Mariah Carey.
Minaj, however, later canceled her concert because of backlash because fans were quick to point out Saudi Arabia’s negative track record with women and the LGBTQ community. They also pointed to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, where the CIA concluded his death was a hit by MBS.
Similarly, BTS has now faced some criticism and backlash over their upcoming Oct. 11 performance, with rapper RM saying the decision was not easy to make.
“If there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there,” Jimin said. “That’s really how we feel.”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Guardian) (Bloomberg)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Associated Press) (People)
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.