Forgive my wordy headline, but there’s a lot to get into this story. Before anything else, let me spell out the context. Saudi and Saudis love social media, but they haven’t been enthused by the efforts of the telecommunication providers in the country to block free call apps or services offered by the likes of FaceTime, SnapChat and WhatsApp. To add insult to injury, consumers have claimed that the Kingdom’s three telcos (Mobily, Saudi Telecom and Zain) have rolled back unlimited data services.
So what have the country’s social media-crazy consumers done? Yes, you guessed right. They’ve taken to social media to call for a boycott. Under the hashtags
#راح_نفلسكم (which basically means we’ll bankrupt you) and #مقاطعة_شركات_الاتصالات (boycott telco companies), the idea is simple.
Starting from last weekend, Saudi users have begun to switch off their phones. The hashtag and others have gone viral, and users have taken to Twitter to demand action against the telcos, including physical boycotts of stores.
The ultimate mark of consumer sentiment is cartoons, and Saudi’s most prominent cartoonist Abdullah Jaber stepped in to pen his own thoughts on the issue (the below translates as the Telco company on the right, saying to the consumer, “why are you angry?”
Saudi Telecom in particular has been hit, both in terms of its social media following (the carrier has lost almost 150,000 followers on its Twitter account), as well as its share price which dropped by several percent on Sunday morning after trading opened on the Saudi bourse.
There’s a further dimension to this story, with some online accounts in the UAE calling for similar action to be taken against the two telco incumbents (see the hashtag
#مقاطعه_اتصالات_ودو2 and #مقاطعه_اتصالات_ودو3).
Is this type of online activism on a single economic issue going to become more common, particularly with the state of finances across the region? And what can communicators do about an issue that is about a product and a strategy that consumers don’t like?
As always, it’d be good to hear your thoughts.
Perhaps the first sign of a new, albeit digital, Arab Spring.
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