Posted by Gabrielle Borg on July 21, 2015 in Blog

How do you travel to multiple countries, festivals or holidays across the globe in one day? Easy, just open up Snapchat and click through the "Our Story" feature. Snapchat claims that their goal is to provide a “community perspective” and offer different points of view, but what happens when some points of views are left out? Last Monday, Snapchat created a story for Tel Aviv. The story featured beautiful Mediterranean beaches, a wedding, and daily life in Israel. Within hours, the story became the target of controversy on social media. Many people expressed outrage that the story marginalized and excluded the Palestinian narrative. On Twitter, many asked why there was not a West Bank or Gaza story on Snapchat.

Snapchat responded on Thursday by featuring a West Bank story on the app. The footage included Palestinian tradition, pride and beautiful sights, as well as videos of life under Israeli occupation. Viewers were shown the separation barrier, checkpoints, and the different forms of ID carried by Palestinians and Israelis.

The trendy app has been providing cross-cultural connections for all of its users through its new “Our Story” feature. Users have been able to virtually travel across the United States, to Spain, Australia, Germany, Japan and more all from their smartphones. The feature allows users from a certain location to upload their pictures and 10 second videos to a communal story that is available to all Snapchat viewers around the world. Stories get millions of views and give the global community 24 hours to explore what life is like in a different part of the world. In a blog post announcing the new “Our Story” feature the company said “My Story has always represented a singular, personal experience. We wanted to build something that offered a community perspective – lots of different points of view. After all, our friends often see the same things in totally different ways.”

The response from Snapchat, along with the response of its viewers, shows us that social media is a powerful tool for activism. It only took two days for Snapchat to feel the pressure from the online community to create a West Bank story and when it did, Palestinians from around the world celebrated the accomplishment together on Twitter. They laughed at the funny videos and drooled over the videos of Arabic food. It may seem like a small accomplishment, but on this rare occasion, Palestinians were able to be the authors of their own story and show the world what life is like under occupation.

Gabrielle Borg is an intern with the Arab American Institute