Posted on October 18, 2018

It may not be surprising to learn that many in the Middle East are putting their newspapers down and picking their mobile phones up a lot more often; however, the social media platforms rising to prominence in the Arab Region have changed in some surprising ways.

Findings come from a five-year retrospective of Northwestern University in Qatar’s annual Media Use in the Middle East survey shows that Qataris report a substantial increase in their time spent online from 2013 to 2017 compared to others in the region, and they are beginning to shift to new social media platforms.

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“Media consumption on a global level has changed tremendously in just a few years’ time, and the Arab World has been a significant part of the transformation,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. “We began this study in the wake of the Arab Spring and have followed changes and trends in the data so that now we are able to examine the collected survey results retrospectively and provide analysis on media habits in a way that’s not been done before.” He added, “We have seen that social media use does change from year to year, both in terms of how it is used and why, but also, in the choice of platform. These studies that look at how people in the region think about and use media offer a calibrated look at social change itself.”

The Media Use in the Middle East surveys research media trends over time in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. The five-year retrospective shows that Qataris are now the least likely to use Facebook among the Arab countries surveyed. As of 2017, only 23 percent were scrolling through the platform’s newsfeed. Instead, 64 percent indicate they now use Snapchat, and 70 percent use Instagram. Those two figures are among the highest penetration rates in the world for those two platforms, as well as the largest among the countries studied.

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Another notable trend identified in the retrospective report shows an increasing number of individuals turning to social media and direct messaging for news and information. Findings reveal WhatsApp specifically now leads the direct message revolution in the region, and 93 percent of Qataris are part of that revolution.

The research and data collected for these surveys in the retrospection report focused primarily on news and information media in 2013, 2015 and 2017 while more concentration was on entertainment media in 2014 and 2016. The results are generated from 1,000 respondents in each participating country each year. NU-Q’s retrospection report can be viewed in its entirety with an interactive tool here.