In June 2014, Snapchat reported that users were viewing content on its ‘Stories’ feature upwards of 1 billion times per day. Granted, a solid 18.4% of those where probably dick-pics, but nevertheless its usefulness as a true social media tool vastly increased.
It’s no coincidence, then, that in that same month, Snapchat expanded ‘Stories’ to include ‘Our Story’, in which crowd-sourced montages could be broadcast to all Snapchat users. With Snapchat playing curator, 10-second segments from multiple users at the same event are stitched together and streamed.
From Carnival in Rio de Janeiro to The Lumberjack World Championship Finals in Wisconsin, Snapchat has created fluid, live and highly individualised virtual access to events the world over.But what they did recently was truly inspirational. Urged by hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Snapchat opened a digital portal to its users into Mecca – Islam’s holiest of cities – a city non-Muslims are forbidden to enter. What they found was an intimate and humbling insight into an often misunderstood and, recently, often misrepresented religion in its fullest glory.
With more than 15 million Muslims visiting Mecca annually and drawn from around the globe, Mecca offers a community of both unique proportion and composition. #Mecca_live quickly began trending, with images and messages inundating the web as fascinated onlookers marvelled at the architectural beauty of the city, but moreover the unity and awe-inspiring, monolithic display of faith.
Muslims of all walks of life talked and walked users through the sites and practices, openly sharing the emotions intrinsic in a pilgrimage that those outside of the faith may struggle to comprehend themselves.The affirmation and excitement of the pilgrimage itself was increased manifoldly by the apparent joy of those willing to share it en mass. From prayer to tawaf – the circling of the Kaaba seven times in an anticlockwise direction – and ritual hair cutting ceremonies, all were shown as they occurred. The agenda of media outlets and governments were dispensed with and replaced instead with insight freely offered by Muslims keen to show the real Islam on the world stage.
Social media poured out pictures and messages from both practitioners of Islam and those non-believers, who were simply stunned by the precious chance to share in such affirming and personal experiences.Of all the things to date covered by Snapchat‘s Live Story, #Mecca_live brought real substance to an app that has previously been mired in controversy regarding its privacy policies. Allowing a cross-section of a collective to essentially report from a particular location or event looks set to become the next great saga of social media, with Twitter’s Periscope app now pushing the boundaries of live broadcasting even further.
With a little of Mecca’s mystery removed by a younger generation with access to this kind of technology and ability to share so widely, there are those harbouring concerns that the spiritual value of the pilgrimage is depreciated in the process. Yet perhaps the true worry is how modernisation is encroaching on a city steeped in history and Islamic lore. The Royal Hotel Clock Tower now stands sentinel of the skyline. The third tallest building in the world offers a glimpse of how the city is meeting the modern world, with plazas and hotels vastly increasing the size and infrastructure of Mecca. Furthermore there have been losses: the building of the clock tower was not only financially expensive, but came at the cost of the Ajyad Fortress. Much derided by Turkey – the fortress was an Ottoman citadel – and historians around the world, the Saudi government remains adamant that these decisions are made with pilgrims in mind and is the business of the state and the state alone.
Snapchat have whet the appetite of those keen to learn and see more of Mecca. Having witnessed the minor pilgrimage of Umrah this time around, it remains to be seen whether this coming September will see #Mecca_live return for Haj, still considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
Watch some of the Snapchat footage from #Mecca_live below.