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#Mecca_Live - Snapchat Broadcast World's Largest Religious Gathering

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Every Ramadan, 100 million devoted Muslims set off on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It's not very often that people on the outside are offered a real, detailed insight into what goes on in the city during this massive gathering, but this year, thanks to Snapchat, we got one. It was staggering.

Organised under the banner of the #Mecca_Live hashtag, Snapchat used its Live Story function to encourage hundred of thousands (if not millions) of Muslims to post content from within Mecca to create a massive, sprawling tableau of the huge gathering. The movement came a result of a huge campaign by Muslim users to convince Snapchat to feature the city and it sure as hell paid off. Over 1 million mentions were clocked on Twitter, both from those reporting from the inside and people reacting to the wonderment of it all.
Typically Snapchat select their own locations for the Live Story feature (including a recent, controversial spotlight on Tel Aviv), but it would have been foolish of them to ignore such a widely subscribed campaign and to be honest, they could use the points. The Live Story feature has up until now been of questionable popularity, but their other new feature has been going down like a lead balloon.

The 'Discover' feature is an area of the app designated to hand-picked advertising content. Previously it was limited to its own tab, but now it appears on the main story page and can't be hidden. Moreover, it actually comes above your friends feed, because it's obviously more important. Since this change, the Snapchat page on the App Store has been utterly overwhelmed with scathing 1-star reviews. If they're smart, they will roll out another update soon and add a hide function, or just more ways to personalise the story feed. With Live Story though, their main focus should be to recognise just how and why the Mecca feed fared so well and carry on the trend in the future.
Just in case anyone from Snapchat HQ happens to be reading this, the reason it was so popular is because it offered people a rare look at one of the most time-honoured, incredible religious traditions on the planet. It also encouraged a positive outlook on Islam on social media, which is hugely important at the moment considering how much media coverage ISIS and other extremist groups are getting, and social media's propensity to attract the jerkiest of knees.

They weren't the only ones to get in on the act. Coca-Cola made inventive use of the social media conduit by rolling out their own Ramadan campaign. They removed the labels from all the coke cans distributed in the Middle East, with one side totally blank and the other reading 'Labels are for cans, not for people'. In the promotional video, the soft drinks giant gathered six men in a pitch-black room to have a dinner party. Once they've finished - and taken the time to get to know each other in the process - the lights come up. The men are all surprised and amazed at how different they all turned out to be. It's a beautiful sentiment, but it's still a little difficult to get past the corporate nature of it (or wonder why they all had to be men).



Whatever the motivation might be, it's very gratifying to see social media being utilised as a means to push positive religious and cultural messages, especially about Islam. So often, discussions about Middle Eastern conflict, religious extremism (far from exclusive to Islam) and other difficult topics are unfairly mutated into gateways for prejudice, but the response to the Mecca Live feed testifies to just how far a positive message can travel with the right wind in its sails.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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#Mecca_Live - Snapchat Broadcast World's Largest Religious Gathering Reviewed by Callum Davies on Thursday, July 16, 2015 Rating: 5

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