Understanding Social Media in the Middle East

The biggest market trends and the continued importance of mobile

Image for post
Image for post
Image via BBC

Market Growth — key points

More than seven out of ten Arabs use Facebook and WhatsApp, the latest data from Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) revealed. Their findings — based on internet users in six nations, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (KSA), Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — showed that usage of these networks far outstripped other social channels.

However, this aggregate figure masks a wide range of differences.

“Facebook penetration varies widely across the region — from nine in 10 Egyptian internet users to just one-third of Qatari users,” the authors note. Similarly, “Twitter penetration varies widely — ranging from six in 10 Saudis to only 4% of Tunisians.”

Image for post
Image for post
Social Media Use, 2013–2019, Arab Nationals in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and UAE. Via: Northwestern University in Qatar

Facebook, and the Facebook family of apps are not the only players in town. Around one-in-five adults in Lebanon (19%) and Tunisia (18%) use the messaging app Viber, the Pew Research Center found. Their research revealed that Viber was more popular than Twitter and Snapchat in those countries. Pew’s 11-nation global study into emerging economies — which included Mexico, Kenya and Philippines — found usage of Viber was much less prevalent, with a median of 4% of adults, in other nations.

Meanwhile, Israel has the highest percentage of adults (77%) in advanced economies using social media, data from the Pew Research Center established. This is just ahead of South Korea (76%), Sweden (73%), Netherlands (72%), Australia and USA (both 70%).

“Globally, internet users maintain about 8 social media accounts on average,” according to survey data shared by GlobalWebIndex. In the Middle East, UAE (with an average of 9 accounts ), Saudi Arabia (9) and Egypt (10) all follow and are slightly above this trend, whereas the average number of social media accounts drops to 5.5 in Morocco.

Social Media habits of Arab Youth continue to evolve

In 2018, the annual Arab Youth survey revealed that social media was the top news source for young people in the region. It maintained that position in 2019.

“Over the past five years, social media has become the dominant source for news among Arab youth,” the study reported, “with 80% polled saying that it was their preferred choice, compared with 25% of those surveyed in 2015.”

Image for post
Image for post
Top news sources for Arab Youth, 2015–2019. Via: Arab Youth Survey

Mobile use has grown, but challenges remain

Since 2014, mobile social media penetration in the region has more than doubled to 44%, data from the GSMA — a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide — shows.

Figures from the GSMA also find that 3G and 4G networks, which are essential for connecting to the internet by mobile, now cover 89% and 62% of the region’s population.

However, the cost of data and phones, as well as concerns about reliable mobile reception, are issues for mobile owners in nations such as Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan. In turn, this impacts on their social media habits.

In some countries, mobile owners’ problems are particularly striking,” the Pew Research Center notes.

“In Lebanon, for example, 77% of phone owners report having problems getting reliable mobile connections, and about two-thirds (66%) say they avoid doing things with their phones because those activities use too much data. In Jordan, nearly half (48%) report having trouble paying for their phone, while in Tunisia four-in-ten (40%) say it can be a challenge to find places to recharge their phones.”

Image for post
Image for post
Attitudes to the impact of mobile technology. Via: Pew Research Center

Separately, Pew highlighted in a survey of emerging economies (which included several Middle East nations) that mobile phones have had a more positive effect — on both a personal and societal level — than social media.

From the same survey sample, Pew commented in a different study that adults in Jordan (92%), Tunisia (80%) and Lebanon (79%) were the most likely to agree that although technology has made people more informed, it also makes them easier to manipulate.

Social Media in the Middle East: 2019 in review is authored by Professor Damian Radcliffe and Hadil Abuhmaid, at the University of Oregon.

Chambers Professor in Journalism @uoregon | Fellow @TowCenter @CardiffJomec @theRSAorg | Write @wnip @ZDNet | Host Demystifying Media podcast https://itunes.app

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store