Social media influencers have been known to promote events around the world for the right price — decisions that sometimes prove to be mistakes. Bella Hadid, who promoted the failed Fyre Festival by vacationing in the Bahamas with other models for a video designed to sell tickets, later apologized for her involvement.
Not everyone is apologizing for what’s widely seen as a new misstep in the world of influencer marketing: the paid attendance of celebrities and other social media stars this past weekend to the three-day-long MDL Beast Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event, billed by the country as its largest arts, culture and music festival, was visited by models Alessandra Ambrosio and Romee Strijd; actors Ryan Phillippe, Wilmer Valderrama and Armie Hammer; DJ Steve Aoki; and social media stars Sofia Richie and Scott Disick, among others. All were photographed at the event. Some also posted pictures to Instagram and other social media outlets, singing the region’s praises and including the hashtag #mdlbeast.
The entire affair aimed to promote the efforts of its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS), to reform the conservative kingdom, which is well-known for its oppression of women’s rights and ethnic and racial minority rights. The country has been aggressively trying to polish its image amid growing concern over the years-long, Saudi-led civil war in Yemen that has led to mass starvation and more than 100,000 fatalities; the gruesome, state-directed assassination of Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was reportedly dismembered with a bone saw; and the kingdom’s many other efforts to stifle dissent.
In just one example of how far the kingdom is willing to go, it staged the first-ever WWE women’s match in Riyadh on Halloween, an effort that Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa called “sportswashing.” The MDL Beast Festival is yet attempt to highlight how progressive Saudi Arabia has ostensibly come.
Some have pushed against the kingdom’s charm offensive. Hip-hop star Nicki Minaj canceled a planned performance in Saudi Arabia in July at a separate new international music festival there, after the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation asked her to back out of the gig. At the time, Minaj issued a statement, saying, “I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, [but] after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.”
Model Emily Ratajkowski also turned down a paid invitation to attend this weekend’s festival, citing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. “It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there.”
Philippe is meanwhile defending on Instagram his decision to accept the trip to this past weekend’s extravaganza. Ae writes, “i had a magical day with wonderful people. i love travel. i love different cultures. i love how we can find ways to connect through our human oneness, the pure desire for love and freedom. no matter where in the world. hoping those connections help to bring even more positive change and progress.”
It’s a decision that’s likely to earn Phillippe — and other high-wattage attendees — more bad publicity in the coming days. While more than a year ago, the CIA concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, the kingdom has continued to deny any involvement in his murder, alleging instead that it was a last-minute decision by Saudi agents on the ground. (This narrative “contradicts ample evidence that the agents came with an intent to kill and the tools to do so,” notes the New York Times.)
Now, in a court today in Saudi Arabia, following a trial that was shrouded in secrecy, five men were sentenced to death and three others to prison terms totaling 24 years over Khashoggi’s killing, while a former top adviser to MBS and a former deputy intelligence chief were both cleared.
The sentences are subject to appeal, notes the Times, which separately notes that in Saudi Arabia, death sentences typically involve beheadings in public squares. Either way, the sentencing seems poised to further complicate Western relations with the kingdom — for influencers and a lot of others in the position of having to decide whether or not to accept its money. In a statement that echoes the concern of many human rights groups, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, earlier today called the verdict a “whitewash.”
Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster
Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.
Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update
On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.
Our December 2021 product reviews update is now rolling out for English-language pages. It will take about three weeks to complete. We have also extended our advice for product review creators: https://t.co/N4rjJWoaqE
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 1, 2021
The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.
A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:
“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.
Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.
Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”
Continue Reading Below
Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.
The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.
The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.
The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.
Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update
Product Review Update Targets More Languages?
The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.
Continue Reading Below
But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.
This is his question:
“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.
So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.
…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t know… like other languages?
My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.
But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.
But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.
I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.
But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.
And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.
So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.
But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”
Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?
While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.
Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.
One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.
It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.
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John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global
Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark
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