How Arabs Interact with Social Media in the Middle East
By: Jackson Chasen-Buckley/Arab America Contributing Writer
A new report detailing the Arab world’s social media use released earlier this year. Professor Damian Radcliffe of the University of Oregon in conjunction with Ph.D. student Hadil Abuhmaid compiled a variety of key findings of social media in the Middle East. The report includes major social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In addition, it covers media manipulation as well as important events such as Ramadan. Papers such as this one have been published in the past, beginning in 2012. During this current health crisis, one may assume that all data of social media use has increased substantially to substitute for social distancing that is not popular in Arab culture.
Social Media Growth
The report states that around 9/10 (90%) of Arab youths utilize some form of social media. This statistic is much higher when compared to the global population use, which is around 58%. A major finding from the report describes how there is a large variety when it comes to social media use in different Arab countries. For example, 90% of Egyptians interact with Facebook in some manner. In contrast, 33% of Qataris utilize Facebook. As for twitter, the report found that 60% of Saudis use Twitter, but only 4% experience the social media platform. The differences discovered are mainly a result of government limitations as well as poor internet connections.
Overall, the data of use varies. The report pulls a survey from Northwestern University in Qatar, which employs data from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the UAE. Compared to the 2018 report, social media use with Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram has increased for the end of 2019. In contrast, Twitter interaction stayed constant at 22% and Snapchat use fell from 25% to 24%. Furthermore, it appears that social media has become the dominant choice of news for Arab youth. The report found that 80% of young Arabs predominantly utilize social mediators newsgathering. The report notes that this number was at 25% in 2015. It is safe to say that despite reductions in the use of some platforms, social media use is only going to continue to grow.
Radcliffe and Abuhmaid’s findings stated that by the end of 2019, Facebook had a total user base of 187 million from MENA. MENA is an acronym that encompasses the Middle East and Northern Africa. Out of the countries surveyed, Egypt came in 1st place with approximately 38 million daily users. Saudi Arabia takes second place with around 16 million participants.
The main takeaway from the Facebook section of the report was how vital Facebook appears to be in the distribution of news. The Arab Youth Survey revealed how young Arabs are much more likely to receive their news from Facebook rather than traditional media sources. In fact, the survey detailed that 60% of those surveyed stated that they had trust in social media to be accurate and unbiased. In contrast, 55% explained that they trusted traditional media outlets. Most amazingly, 50% of Arab youths say that they collect their News from Facebook! It should be noted, however, that from 2013-2018, data showed that Facebook usage was actually declining. With that said, the user amount appears to be climbing again; this is most likely due to the liberalization of social media in the surveyed countries.
Although Twitter usage remained stagnant from the year of 2019, usage was actually declining from 2013. In 2013 the user rate averaged around 45%. In contrast, that rate was approximately 22% in 2018. Twitter essentially lost half of its base in the Middle east. Even so, the report notes that Twitter still has a very large market in some Middle Eastern countries. For example, Saudi Arabia and Turkey posses the 5th and 6th largest Twitter markets in the world. Around 10 million Saudi citizens utilize twitter. To put that in perspective, that is around 38% of Saudi Arabia’s population. Likewise, there are close to 8.3 active Twitter users in Turkey. This represents 13% of Turkey’s population.
In the past year, Twitter has had some controversial moments with events coring in the Middle east. For example, the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) Twitter account tweeted out an image following airstrikes. This image essentially “trolled” Iran.
IDF Twitter post 01/21/2019
Twitter has also taken action to ban accounts. Twitter likens these bans to platform manipulation and state-run media. Platform manipulation, as Twitter explains, is essentially identity fraud. Accounts are made to impersonate an individual in order to achieve a goal. Twitter stated that these manipulated accounts create a fake person in order to push state-backed media. These accounts are created in order to show false support. For example, the report stated that Twitter suspended 271 accounts that were created in order to push positive propaganda of the Saudi government. In total, the publication explained that over 4,500 were suspended across the MENA region for platform manipulation and state-supported information campaigns.
Some added key findings are as follows:
- Half of all mothers in the Middle East watch kids content on YouTube. Parents in MENA increasingly use YouTube to bond and share experiences with their children, as well as relying on the channel for advice.
- Saudi Arabia is the fifth largest market for Snapchat in the world, with over 15.65 million users. Turkey, with 7.45 million users, is the ten largest market.
- More than 60% of YouTube viewers in MENA are millennials. In Egypt, 77% of millennials watch YouTube every day.
Damian Radcliffe summarizes it best. He states, “This year’s report highlights the growing role played by social media in meeting the information needs lives of Arab Youth and young parents.” Based on the information provided, it is evident that social media is continuing to expand across the MENA region. It is defiantly more predominant in some contras than others, but it appears that these states are becoming more open. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the usage numbers increase by a large margin in the next half-decade.
The statistics and data used in this article were taken from “SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE MIDDLE EAST: 2019 IN REVIEW”. If you would like to read the full report, please click here.
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