The digital era doesn't seem to be going anywhere so it's time we get used to life online. Social media, in particular, has become a huge part of everyday life so much so that words like "googling" and "tweeting" have actually been added to the English dictionary.
This online world is not limited to one place or space (just the cloud) but there are preferences among users in different parts of the world. For example, people in Saudi Arabia are pretty attached to Snapchat and YouTube; the kingdom is actually the largest market for those two platforms.
But the kingdom's social media users definitely don't limit themselves to just these platforms. Out of the country's 34.4 million people, 9.9 million have active Twitter accounts, making Saudi Arabia the country with the highest percentage (around 28.7 percent) of active users in the world. According to Statista - a leading provider of market and consumer data - the kingdom ranks fourth globally in that regard.
So it shouldn't surprise you to see incidents in Saudi Arabia go viral on the micro-blogging platform. It also shouldn't surprise you to see heartwarming stories on there either (even fairytales of some sort). It may surprise you a little, though, that Twitter, as a platform, has helped people in the kingdom achieve justice, or at least shed light on issues that would otherwise be kept in the dark.
"I swear I have lost due to the train construction, and there is no compensation. And soon I'll be going to prison because of my debts that have amounted to 1.7 million Saudi Riyals, with losses reaching over 4 million Riyals. God will make it up to us, and Thank God first and foremost. I do not care about going to prison, I care about my five children who will be lost without me."
Twitter has a massive influence among people in Saudi Arabia and the story of Abou Ahmad and his restaurant is just one example.
On Nov. 4, Abou Ahmad posted a video pleading with people to help him. His restaurant, Koshary Al Basha, was going under as customers had not been able to reach the eatery due to the ongoing construction surrounding it.
The Saudi man was drowning in debt worth over 1.7 million Saudi riyals ($453,000) and was looking at a possible prison sentence because of it. His restaurant had lost over 4 million Saudi riyals ($1 million) so he decided to post a video on Twitter asking for a helping hand. Little did he know he would receive outpouring support from users for doing that.
A day later, a friend of Abou Ahmad's posted a second video showing a crowd of people standing in line to order from the restaurant. On Nov. 7, a customer posted a third video showing even more people at Koshary Al Basha. The man thanked the community for not only tweeting about the issue but actually coming around to pull the man out of his tricky situation.
"I just dined at Koshary Al Basha and I found that our society does not support with "retweets, views and likes" but by actually acting upon their support. And truly yesterday the restaurant had to close twice because of the large crowd and because they ran out of koshary. Mashallah. Point is, don't miss out on this report.
I know i have annoyed you by talking about this subject, but I will bring it to a close by showing you the shut down store next to Koshary Al Basha, it's called Al Kart Al Abyad (translated to The White Card) due to losses the store has closed down after 13 years of success and profits. God knows that the owner doesn't know about this part but it is our right to support him as a society. This merchant is part of us and he has gone through losses, his return to activity is in our benefit."
Back in September, a video of a Palestinian father living in Riyadh beating his baby girl as he attempted to "teach her how to walk" circulated online. He grabbed her by the neck, slapped her across the face multiple times, and held her from the ears as a means to force her to stand up.
When the video was first released, authorities did not know who the man was. However, after further investigation, they were able to put a name to the face; Yousef Alqutai was arrested immediately.
Alqutai posted a video in which he asked for forgiveness, pleading temporary insanity because his wife had left him alone with four kids to raise two weeks prior to the abuse. "I've been taking care of my four children for the last two weeks. They are not abused now. They are all fine. It's an old video and I have repented to God. Back then I was going through psychological problems," he said in the follow-up video.
"As you can all see now she is perfectly fine. I tried to teach her to walk and now look by the grace of God she walks by herself," he said.
Had it not been for Twitter, the man's abusive actions would've gone unnoticed.
In January, the story of Rahaf Al-Qunun made headlines around the world after the 18-year-old shared her ordeal on Twitter.
It all started when the Saudi woman attempted to flee the kingdom via Kuwait's airport during a trip with her family. "She was trying to head to Australia via a connecting flight in Bangkok," but all went south the moment she landed in Thailand. Though she has an Australian visa, her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat who was waiting for her when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport. She was being held in a Bangkok airport hotel and was meant to be put on a flight back to Kuwait, but she remained self-imprisoned in the room, asking for help from the UN, for fear she would be killed once back in Saudi Arabia.
Throughout her entire ordeal, Al-Qunun was posting live Twitter updates of everything that was happening to her. Eventually, she had to hand over her Twitter account to some of her trusted friends, who kept everyone updated on the happenings.
Rahaf attracted many supporters during the hours of her ordeal, they included the media, Saudi human rights activists and even government officials. The Bangkok office of the UN Refugee Agency was able to quickly place her under its protection, granting her refugee status two days later and finally placing her on a flight to Canada - who had granted her asylum after deeming her case to be valid - another two days later.
Virality has become a lifeline for many Saudi women - and in some cases, their children, too - who have been subject to abuse. In several cases, victims were only saved after going public with their stories online as was the case with #SaveRahaf, #SaveDinaAli and more recently the Arabic hashtag "Asmaa and her family are being abused."
In a series of videos being circulated under the aforementioned hashtag, a woman revealed her daughters were severely beaten by their father and his family. Though she reported the incident to the Family Protection Unit in both Assir and Bisha, she claimed no official action was taken in the case.
The mother said she was threatened by her daughters' uncle that if she reported the incident, he'd release private photographs of the kids. However, she had to go public with the case after her daughter was stabbed. Hours after the woman's videos went viral on Saudi Twitter, the kingdom's Human Rights Committee (HRC) announced it will investigate the case and refer it to local police.
These are just a few of the cases in which Twitter helped "save the day" or "save a life."
Although many complain that social media has taken over people's lives and that it has multiple negative effects, social media has literally saved lives.
Whether it's an abuser, a molester, a kidnapper, or a simple thief, social media has created such a tight nit community, that finding and bringing the assailants to justice has been facilitated ten-fold.