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Snapchat: The end to being social on social media? Open in fullscreen

Khalid Albaih

Snapchat: The end to being social on social media?

Snapchat combines experiences of private messaging with benefits of public forms of social media [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 May, 2016

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Comment: Each network has a period of growing up, but with few opportunities to open a conversation between users, Snapchat's passive engagement is more anti-social than social, writes Khalid Albaih.

As a "social media artist" (or better yet, a cartoonist), I spend most of my time on social media, being anti-social on my phone.

I have been non-stop replying, "liking" and "favouriting" since my Facebook page received the attention of online and offline activists and rose in popularity alongside the Arab Spring revolutions.

What is very significant for me is existing in a space where new and mainly younger audiences and trends migrate to.

The one thing I noticed is that with each new app youth gravitate towards, the shorter the attention span becomes.

From the limitless word count of blogs and Facebook, to the 140 characters of Twitter, to Instagram's infinite flow of images with secondary captions, to finally the self-destructive 10-seconds cap of Snapchat.

I consider myself a member of the first internet generation, which was curious about the world, especially given the difficulty of getting visas to experience it first hand.

This was the case before 9/11. Asking "A/S/L?" in chatrooms sparked our curiosity, and allowed us to meet people from all around the world.

Even after the Arab Spring, social media remains to be the only 'free' space to discuss current issues in the region

By the mid 1990s we all had our favourite forums and blogs, where we discussed and shared our talents and opinions.

Then, there were several shots at networking websites before ultimately, Facebook emerged - and the rest was history. 

Unfortunately, even after the Arab Spring, social media remains to be the only "free" space to discuss current issues in the Middle East region.

As an artist whose work exists almost exclusively online, the comments section becomes a very important part of my artistic experience.

After posting a cartoon, a conversation starts and I am able to engage with the commentators and witness commentators engaging among themselves.

This is an essential part of the online experience.

Did you see my last post on Facebook?!
I don't use FB, it's boring and the whole family is on it.
- a chat with my 22-year-old sister in-law

Snapchat is great because it combines the experience of private messaging platforms, like WhatsApp, with the benefits of public forms of social media, which allow you to publish to wider audiences.

As an artist whose work exists almost exclusively online, the comments section becomes a very important part of my artistic experience

With all that in mind, I believe Snapchat has failed to start a public conversation, because with no comments section and no public replies and reposting abilities, you simply cannot share a conversation.

I suppose Snapchat is more attractive for a generation that grew up watching reality TV, a passive experience of making people famous by passively "following" these people's lives without participating or stating an opinion.

I think this is a big factor on Donald Trump's success in the 2016 US presidential campaign - and I expect will also be for Kanye in 2020, if he runs as he stated in one of his many rants.

The experience of reality TV is magnified in Snapchat, with wasting a maximum of 10 seconds at a time and jumping from one account that you follow to the next automatically, not giving the follower time to think about replying or starting a conversation.

I don’t want to rush to judge, since all social media has gone through a maturation period. Facebook went from a personal and private space, with only a few friends, to a news feed. Twitter went from a place to stalk your favourite celebrity to a technology that helped establish the term citizen journalism. Instagram also morphed from "food porn" to raising the question: can everyone be a photographer?

I'm looking forward to seeing how Snapchat matures with time.

But for now, I believe Snapchat has put an end to the "social" in social media.

Or maybe it has started a new approach to being "social" - or anti-social - in the future.

Khalid Albaih is a Romanian-born Sudanese political cartoonist based in Qatar. Follow him on Twitter: @khalidalbaih

Opinions expressed remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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