Twitter is a platform where people communicate, catch up on the news, and weigh in on things. But in Saudi Arabia, it serves one additional purpose - a place to date and fall in love.
In the ultra-conservative kingdom, dating is out of the question for the majority of young people as many marriages are still arranged by families. But today, those who reject the idea of marrying someone they don't know are turning to the internet to try and escape strict societal and cultural norms.
Saudi couples are meeting and dating on Twitter, an app that's particularly popular in the country. We spoke to a few of them. Here's what they had to tell us about their experiences:
"It started with a retweet and now we're engaged"
When Aziz first started following Salma on Twitter, little did he know he'd be engaged to her just two years later. Speaking to StepFeed, the couple told us how they followed each other on the platform after Aziz retweeted something Salma had uploaded on her feed.
"I heard of so many stories about couples meeting on Twitter and honestly I found it a bit creepy at first. I felt it was weird to just DM someone and start talking to them out of nowhere and this didn't happen for me and Salma," Aziz explained.
"I remember I was scrolling down the platform and I came across a post my friend had liked. I retweeted it. Yep, it started with a retweet and now we're engaged," he laughingly said.
Salma followed Aziz after she spotted the retweet, and the couple kept liking each other's posts for a while. After a wave of comments and likes, they slowly started connecting over books and films, things they're both obsessed with, according to her. They got closer with time, and realized it was more than a friendship.
"I couldn't believe I was actually dating someone I met on Twitter, but that was my reality," Salma explained.
The couple met in person only three times. They told us it was very risky for them to meet and how they didn't enjoy their dates due to the fact that they felt anxious about being caught. This anxiety led them to the decision of making things official.
"Telling my mom I wanted to get engaged to Salma was the shock of her life. She was getting ready to find me someone she liked, so it was tough to convince her. My father was surprisingly chill about the whole thing," Aziz confessed.
Salma, on the other hand, had a tough time explaining the situation to her family, but managed to convince them of allowing Aziz to ask for her hand in marriage. The couple faced several other familial obstacles, but defied them all and are now engaged.
"Twitter gave us the freedom to express our feelings for each other"
Yousef and Nouf met on Twitter in 2017 after bickering under a viral tweet ... and they've been together since. Though they've never met in person, they regularly video call.
"She had commented something under a post that was all over Twitter and I found it so infuriating and sent her a comment under it. We argued for like 20 minutes before it was all resolved and I thought to myself wow, this girl is unique," Yousef told us.
After following Nouf on Twitter, Yousef was ignored for a while before she finally responded to a direct message he sent her.
"I felt that he was genuine and wasn't one of those creeps who DM you these cringeworthy flirt lines. He just said, 'I want to get to know you more,' and that's how it really started. Twitter gave us the freedom to express our feelings for each other," Nouf explained.
Knowing they couldn't date in real life, the couple kept texting on Twitter before exchanging phone numbers, though it doesn't mean they're not worried about the future. Nouf's parents are traditional, which makes it harder for her to smoothly break the news to them. "Whenever we talk about this, we just tell each other we'll work it out somehow," she said.
"If we can't date in the real world, we might as well date in the virtual one"
Majid and Ameera are another couple who started dating on Twitter a few months ago. "This isn't the first time I meet a girl on Twitter and we talk back and forth, but with Ameera, things were different," Majid told us.
The couple share several interests and can spend hours texting. It started with both of them commenting on a mutual friend's post, and they haven't stopped talking since.
"There's no way our families will accept this and we're really scared to meet in person, but I think we'll have to just see this through. So many of our friends are dating on Twitter too, so we feel like we aren't alone in this," Ameera explained.
According to Majid, Twitter is an outlet for young Saudis to "just try to live normally, to discover things that they aren't allowed to experience in the real world." There are two worlds in the kingdom, he says, "one we live in and the one that's online. I am dating via the latter. If we can't date in the real world, we might as well date in the virtual one."
"I can't wait to tell my future children that I met their mom on Twitter"
For three years, Mohammed and Manal have been dating - mostly - on Twitter, even managing to meet in person a handful of times.
"I followed her after she posted a tweet that went a little viral in our community and then DM'd her saying I appreciated her post. We became friends first, just tweeting back and forth at times, but then when her mom passed away, we got really close," Mohammed said.
Manal felt she had someone to talk to, a person who could understand her and who she could confide in. His respect for women, "which is rare to find" in her circle, was the first thing that attracted her to him.
"I feel like he's a true equal partner, we discuss things, we fight but always end up reasoning with each other, it's a relationship, which is something not many Saudi women have experienced," she told us.
The couple considers Twitter, a platform Saudis feel liberated while using, to be groundbreaking in Saudi Arabia. "We're not doing anything wrong, we're just trying to get to know each other better and then deciding whether we want a serious relationship or not," Manal explained.
Mohammed has already proposed to her (yes, it happened on Twitter) and she accepted. But in Saudi Arabia, things will not become official until he asks for her hand in marriage through her guardian. He told us he will do so next month.
"Don't tell her, but I can't wait to tell my future children that I met their mom on Twitter," he jokingly said.