Social media is an integral part of life globally and, with time, users’ online habits shift and evolve. For the past eight years, University of Oregon (UO) Professor Damian Radcliffe has researched trends on usage in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and recently published his annual report.
This year’s report, “Social Media in the Middle East: 2019 in review,” which is co-written by UO PhD student Hadil Abuhmaid, offers insight for journalists, editors and other media professionals around the world interested in reaching, or expanding, their audience in the region.
(1) Social media use in the Middle East continues to grow.
According to the 11th annual Arab Youth Survey, nine out of every 10 young people use at least one social media channel every day, and more often than before, they do so on their phone. Data from GSM Association shows that mobile social media in the region has doubled in the past five years, now reaching 44%.
The platforms that social media users in the region turn to differ greatly by country, but Facebook continues to find a large, growing audience. With 38 million users each day, Egypt is the MENA region’s largest Facebook market.
(2) Twitter use decreased in the region.
Although many people once considered Twitter the most popular social media in the region, especially during the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011, use of the platform has decreased in the years following. Since 2013, Twitter use has been cut nearly in half across the region. According to Northwestern University in Qatar, 45% of internet users participated in the network in 2013 and now that number is just 22%.
However, not everyone has turned away from Twitter. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the fifth and sixth largest markets for Twitter in the world.
(3) Facebook and Twitter cracked down on misuse.
Social media, like any technology, can be weaponized to support certain ideologies and punish others. In 2019, this trend continued, with state actors and terrorists both using the major platforms to manipulate their audiences with mis- or disinformation campaigns.
“Greater scrutiny by platform owners resulted in Facebook, Twitter and Telegram each closing hundreds of accounts in 2019 due to inappropriate use by state sponsored actors and terrorist groups,” wrote Radcliffe.
(4) Visually-led social networks gained popularity.
In 2019, social networks that rely on visual content continued to grow in the MENA region. For instance, Instagram, which relies on photos, has 63 million users in the Middle East. Turkey is the sixth largest Instagram market in the world, while Kuwait, Bahrain and Israel also have a large percentage of Instagram users.
Snapchat also boasts a large user base in the region. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the sixth and 10th largest markets in the world, respectively.
(5) YouTube is extremely popular, especially for specific audiences.
YouTube has video content for just about anyone, and two groups dominate viewership in the region: mothers and millennials. In MENA, 60% of YouTube viewers are millennials; this rises to 77% in Egypt, according to Google. Parents also use YouTube to bond with their children by watching content together, and to gather insights when dealing with difficult parenting decisions.
There is no doubt that social video will continue to increase. For now, however, YouTube reigns in the Middle East and North Africa, especially during Ramadan when viewership for TV dramas and soap operas typically increases by more than 150%.