Living in a Connected World 2018/In what ways does Instagram and Instagram culture flatten out cultural specificity?

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Digital revolution has been experienced in the Middle East, just like in the other parts of the globe. This revolution has been fueled by the internet, which has proved to be a useful tool for Middle East residents. We must acknowledge that this revolution has influenced and changed the way of life of the people in the Middle East, by connecting them to other parts of the globe. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have helped shape and change the Middle East culture, by introducing ideologies that were alien to this region. These technologies have enabled organizations, individuals, and groups to exchange information, express their ideas, and interact with strangers online. The use of Instagram in the Middle East countries such as Kuwait and Turkey has attracted some contradictory views; mainly due to its influence on the culture of this region. To better understand the impact of Instagram in the Middle East, this study describes the Middle East Culture and how Instagram has influenced it over the past few years.

Main Concepts[edit | edit source]

History of Instagram[edit | edit source]

Instagram, as we know it today was coined in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. The idea behind this invention was to facilitate smooth interactions and efficient sharing of images and videos across the globe. Instagram differs from other social media platforms in that it Kelvin and Mike specifically created it for sharing images, photos, and videos. The amount of Photo sharing that takes place on Instagram is insanely high. Apart from facilitating photo and video sharing, Instagram also allows users to edit, and organize photos. For instance, one can upload photos, choose individuals who can view them, and also use filters and tags to edit and organize the images.

Instagram use in the Middle East, and its impact on the culture[edit | edit source]

In recent days, Instagram has gained popularity among a large number of Middle East teens. While most of them use the platform for entertainment, some of them use it to inform outsiders about their countries and the positive aspects of their cultures. In Turkey, for Instance, Instagram is a popular platform for individuals who want to inform outsiders about their food, dressing and several other aspects of their cultures. Others use the platform to attract tourists, by eliminating the bias, and stereotypes previously associated with the Middle East countries. For instance, most western Media usually portrays the Middle East as unstable, and highly risky for any foreigner.

Instagram has exposed the Middle East to other cultures hence facilitating cultural interactions between different groups. Through this platforms, users have found a new way of sharing content, photos, and videos, on the various aspects of their cultures. Before the invention of Instagram, middle East citizens relied heavily on the western media and journalists to air information about their cultures, and the different aspects of their society. In most cases, the western media lacked a succinct understanding of the Middle East culture, and always misinterpreted most aspects of the cultures. For Instance, in Hollywood, and other American Mainstream Media, the Middle East cultures have been portrayed as retrogressive and Oppressive towards women (Qutub, 2013)[1]. However, through interactions on Instagram, most people have come to understand the Middle Eastern Culture better, hence eliminating the stereotypes associated with it.

The role of Modest Islamic influencers in cultural Flattening[edit | edit source]

The role of modest Islamic influencers in cultural Flattening Traditionally, the Middle East has been associated with a lot of negative events. It is due to such untrue information that most people, particularly from the western culture desist from visiting most Middle East nations. With an increase in the number of Middle East bloggers, the trends are changing slowly. Kuwait, for instance, has a large number of Bloggers who use Instagram to inform the rest of the world about their beautiful culture, and reasons why they should tour Kuwait. The benefits of such bloggers are easily noticeable since, over the last few years, Kuwait has experienced an influx of foreigners as tourists, and businessmen and ladies. The influx has benefited Kuwaitis not only by offering jobs to them, but also be erasing the bad image, created by the western mainstream media.

Middle East bloggers such as Fatima AlMattar, Mariam Mohammad and Ascia Al Faraj to market their culture, and to display their Iconic fashion, in a world dominated by western Fashion Icons. A few years ago, it was difficult to find a prominent Kuwait blogger or a fashion Icon who could compete favorably with their western counterparts. As more Kuwaitis have embraced Instagram, and social media use, the number of bloggers, and fashionistas are on the rise. Previously, these bloggers mainly targeted foreign tourists, by informing them about the beauty of their culture, and reasons as to why they should visit this country. There is a new trend on Instagram, whereby these Icons are using Instagram to market their foods and to inform their followers about new food tips. These influencers have played a key role in Flattening the Middle East culture, by exposing locals to foreign foods, Fashion and dressing codes.

While Instagram has numerous positive effects on the Middle East culture, it has some adverse effects as well. One negative effect of this platform is that it has led to the flattening of the local culture and its replacement with the western cultures and ideologies. The use of Instagram among Middle East youths has led to the globalization of culture whereby, most of them have adopted the western ways of doing things, ignoring their cultures. In both Turkey and Kuwait for instance, Instagram has become a popular application for people of all age and genders. Most youths who sign up in Instagram interacts with users from other parts of the globe, where they get accustomed to the Instagram culture. Most of them end up adopting foreign cultures and forgetting own cultures.

Instagram and Instagram culture have played a key role in the flattening of our culture in the Middle East and Globally. The Instagram culture is characterized by deception, whereby people portray a fake life, that they cannot afford in reality. The concept behind this culture is that everyone in this platform wants to be recognized, and their effects felt by their followers, and all people using this platform. Instagram has revolutionized how individuals interact, and how they perceive their cultures, as well as that of other people. While Instagram has revolutionized all aspects of our lives, its impact on culture is visible: both in the Middle East, and globally.

Cultural flattening takes diverse forms, but always has adverse effects on a people, and their culture. For instance, it leads to a devaluation of traditions, icons and key symbols of a culture. Most Western companies such as MacDonald’s relies on Instagram to reach users in the Middle East and globally. These companies lack a succinct understanding of key icons, and symbols used in the Middle East hence end up using them for the wrong reasons. Through the use of Instagram, the Middle East culture has been transformed into a commodity, and most aspects of the culture commercialized or altered to suit into the globalized Instagram culture. Through Instagram, Middle East youths have learnt about new food, dressing code, and in the process, forget about their cultural identity.

For a long time, Instagram, and other social media platforms have been dominated by western celebrities, which in most cases portray their cultures as ideal. Through this platforms, most of them have managed to convince middle East youths to adapt to the western lifestyle, by portraying the Middle East culture as retrogressive, and not admirable. Through Instagram, western firms have managed to introduce western food and dressing culture to the Middle East, leading to a decline in the local culture. For instance, companies such as MacDonald’s have stores in Turkey, and Kuwait, whereby they sell western foods, and drinks. The effects of Instagram in the Middle East have also been felt in other areas such as education, and entertainment.

Fashion Icons Yalda Golsharifi have also been at the forefront of informing the world about the beautiful culture in the Middle East, and specifically Kuwait. Yalda uses her Instagram account to market Kuwaiti’s beautiful culture, and to eradicate the stereotype previously associated with Middle East culture. She also uses the account to display her fashion, and to shows Kuwaiti’s that it’s possible to combine modernity, with the traditional Kuwait culture. Through Bloggers such as Yalda, most ladies in Kuwait, and the Middle East as a whole are slowly accepting modernity and embracing the use of Instagram to display their society.

Instagram use in Kuwait: Benefits and Negative effects[edit | edit source]

Kuwait is a country characterized by social traditions which are conservative but not strict (Nakib, 2016)[2]. Although Kuwait has accepted most of the western culture aspects, its majority of cultural practices have remained changed. The social norms and the laws are governed by Islam and Muslim who are the majority of Kuwaitis. In Kuwait, you will see most women in traditional clothes when they are on the streets and in their homes. This traditional mode of dressing requires them to cover their whole body from head to toe; except their faces and hands, moreover, other Arab women prefer also to cover their hands and their faces to protect themselves from unwanted attention (Nakib, 2016). Even with the Social Media revolution, the dressing culture among Arabic women has remained slightly unaltered.

Most people in Kuwait have accepted modernity since the country is less strict on the issues of human rights, and dressing code. Some Kuwaiti girls, for instance, do not wear Hijab since no one in this country is forced to wear it. Compared to other countries in the Middle East such as Iran, or Saudi Arabia, Kuwait has accepted western culture since the country is not strict, and has embraced democracy. Most Kuwait ladies, for instance, uses Instagram to record videos, and photos, and to inform other people about their culture. Most of them also use Instagram to show that Kuwait is peaceful for foreigners, and not strict as portrayed by people in the mainstream western Media. From a personal experience during a family trip to the United States 15 years ago, people were astonished that I never wore Hijab back then. Most of them were shocked when I informed them that, here in Kuwait, the rules are not strict, and women and girls are not forced to wear Hijab or follow the traditional Islamic roles.

Kuwaiti girls cheering for the National soccer team in Kuwait city
Strict Muslim women in Kuwait City

In Kuwait, most of the social norms incline toward Islam, whereby the majority of them are guided by the Quran. Laws outlined in the Quran advocates for both men and women who are Muslim to wear modest clothes while in public. Although there are no specific clothes mentioned by the law, Muslims and Islamic women know that they should cover their bodies completely except for their hands and faces. The cloths should also not show body form or shape but should be loose, and it should not be transparent thus not attracting attention due to its beauty (Nakib, 2016). The modest clothing combined with fashion is a mode of clothing that embraces fashion while still following the traditional cultural rules. Zaynah Ahmed is an influential figure of modest clothing and a blogger who has risen due to her interest in fashion. Ahmed opined that her interest in Fashion and blogging emanated from the desire to show Arabic women that one can still be in the fashion industry without compromising her culture or religion.

Instagram has influenced the cultural values of Kuwaitis in on aspects such as clothing and behaviors especially among higher education students and young people. Compared to other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is more influential since it was created specifically for the sharing of videos, and Images. When a person posts a photo in a certain modal dressing; the other members following the account on Instagram may be influenced to try it too or may be compelled to criticize it. Ahmed points out that bloggers use the internet and Instagram to influence citizens from Kuwait to embrace western aspects of life and to adopt the modest code of dressing (Wakefield, 2017)[3]. As opposed to other bloggers, Ahmed uses the platform to shows fellow Arabic women, that they can embrace modernity but within the confines of their cultures.

Although there is a misconception about women who cover their hair, that they don’t express themselves fully through fashion, women from the middle east and particularly Kuwait wear hijabs and veils and cover their bodies in their modest clothing (Wakefield, 2017). However, some women from Kuwait have been posting photos on Instagram, the biggest photos and videos sharing social media network. The increasing number of women and men posting their photos on Instagram and sharing varieties of different kinds of modest clothes has influenced the culture and norms of the young people in Kuwait. Some Muslim and Islamic women from Kuwait display their fashion and styles through Instagram, using fake names to protect their privacy (Wakefield, 2017). Others who fully embrace fashion and modest dress code have genuine accounts, but they ensure that they wear loose clothes and also cover their bodies, others scroll through the feet.

In Kuwait, men and women are not supposed to socialize in public; however, this happens occasionally at different levels of interaction. With the use of Instagram, where a man can open and view accounts of female counterparts, the interaction between men and women has been increasing with time. This interaction is, in turn, discouraging the traditional culture of separation between men and women. Moreover, the use of Instagram is enabling women to display their pictures in public with intentions of displaying their beauty which is against the Koran laws. Interactions outside the traditional confines of Islam laws has contributed to the degradation of the local culture, and younger people are embracing foreign cultures. Most of them for instance, are using Instagram to communicate with members of the opposite sex and to interact with people outside the Arab world.

Instagram use in Turkey: Benefits and Negative effects[edit | edit source]


Compared to Kuwait, Turkey is more open to western culture, and the country has more freedom. For instance, drinking is totally legal in this nation, and there are numerous bars and strip clubs. Instagram like other types of social media has been significantly incorporated into this society and used to the advantage of the local people. Even though Turkey ranks among the countries that still retain some of their traditional cultural practices, Instagram use in this nation is high (Mohamed, 2015)[4]. Some factors that have contributed to high Instagram use among Turks include a large number of young people, availability of internet connection and globalization.

Turkey has benefited from the Instagram revolution, and most youths have incorporated Instagram in their day to day life. Turkey has benefited from the Instagram revolution since it has increased interactions between Turks, and the outside world. Just like other nations with a significantly high Muslim population, face to face interactions between members of opposite genders is highly discouraged. Before the introduction of Instagram and other forms of social media platforms, interactions between members of opposite genders were substantially minimizal due to culturally imposed restrictions. However, the integration of social media in these nations has resulted in improved interactions across members of opposite sex by providing an alternative way for (meet-ups) where communication occurs not only in a smooth manner but also in a safer environment.

In addition to promoting cross-gender communication, Instagram has provided Turkey with a platform to show off its rich culture (Pappé, 2014)[5]. While going through the Instagram profile of most Turks, one can notice that they like flaunting about their rich cultural heritage such as their clothing attire, historical sites, and cuisines (Pappé, 2014). The significant economic development of the Turkish economy can be attributed to its contact with the outside world, which has made it possible for Turks to interact, and to trade with other cultures. Through such interactions, Turks have not only managed to portray their country as a top tourist destination, but also a home of prominent fashion designs. It is through such activities that Turkey have become a leading tourist destination for tourist and business individuals looking to explore their rich culture.

Despite the impact that Instagram has had in bringing the world in contact with the rich Middle East culture, the culture of turkey has also benefited through the exposure its people have to other cultures. While each culture is unique in its way, there is always a chance for people to borrow from other cultures, in order to improve their own. Given the high rate of Globalization, interactions between Turks, and the outside world has been made easier, and highly efficient by Instagram. Before visiting this country, one can, for instance, use Instagram accounts of prominent Turks to identify the does and Don’ts in this country (Mohamed, 2015). Through this approach, the number of businessmen and women visiting turkey has increased tremendously.

Even though most Middle East countries are Arabic speaking nations, the use of Instagram has inspired individuals from these countries to learn at least one-second language such as English. Studies show that, in Turkey, English has been significantly incorporated in tourist centers to ensure that a large number of tourists and business people who make their way there can effectively communicate (Pappé, 2014). The leading tourist destinations in Turkey such Cappadocia, Sultanahmet, and resort town in the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have incorporated English as a major language for communication. It is through Instagram that most Turks have identified the need to learn and understand English, to blog and communicate effectively with people from English speaking nations.

Like in Kuwait, Instagram has helped Turkey to eliminate the negative stereotype previously associated with Middle East nations. The increased number of Instagram users from Turkey is a clear indication that the platform has proved to have a positive effect on culture. The distinct impact this mobile application has had in advancing the Middle Eastern culture is evident through the increased number of tourists and business persons that are making their way into this Middle Eastern country with the aim of exploring their rich culture (Zeng & Gerritsen, 2014)[6]. Before the introduction of social media applications such as Instagram, most people across the world, particularly from western countries, had a negative image of Turkey and other Middle East countries. However, the introduction of Social Media applications such as Instagram has had a substantial impact in presenting the world to get the firsthand information about this nation. Since Instagram allows individuals to take and post photos and videos, Turks have used this platform to take photos of their Cities and other destinations, and post them for the rest of the world to see.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In conclusion, Instagram has flattened most aspects of the Middle East culture, harmonizing them with the rest of the world. Through this platform, the Middle East citizens are now connected to the rest of the world, where they can learn a new culture, and also showcase own culture. Both Turkey and Kuwait have benefited from this platform, both economically, and socially. Instagram has allowed both nations to inform outsiders about their culture, and to erase the negative stereotype, created by western mainstream Media. Through this platform, modernity, and democratic values and processes have been incorporated into the Middle East for the benefit of the locals. While Instagram has presented new issues and Challenges to this region, its benefits outweigh the negative effects.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Qutub, A. (2013). Harem Girls and Terrorist Men: Media Misrepresentations of Middle Eastern Cultures. Colloquy, 9, 139-155.
  2. Nakib, F. A. (2016). Kuwait transformed: A history of oil and urban life. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
  3. Wakefield, Y. (2017). Suitcase Filled With Nails: Lessons Learned from Teaching Art in Kuwait. Cork: BookBaby.
  4. Mohamed, H. S. (2015). The Use of Social Media among Public Relations Students in the UAE. International Journal of Customer Relationship Marketing and Management (IJCRMM), 6(2), 15-30.
  5. Pappé, I. (2014). The modern Middle East: a social and cultural history. Routledge.
  6. Zeng, B., & Gerritsen, R. (2014). What do we know about social media in tourism? A review. Tourism Management Perspectives, 10, 27-36.