LONDON // Arab users of social media believe the networks can improve the quality of their lives, but they also distrust social media and believe it can harm local cultures and traditions.
Those were the findings of a major qualitative study of social media usage in the Arab World, conducted by TNS, a unit of the advertising multinational WPP, last year. The study talked to more than 7,000 people spread across 18 countries, including the GCC, Yemen, the Levant and North Africa.
More than half the users in the Arab world use social media to connect with people. Gaining information, sharing photos, listening to music and watching videos was the second main reason for using social media.
The study found that Facebook and WhatsApp are the most used social media channels across the Arab world, while smart phones are the main way people access the networks.
Among the positive attributes identified by users was social media’s role as a source of knowledge and education, as well as a source of entertainment.
However, the negative impacts cited by users of social media networks include: young people adopting western culture and straying from Arab culture; problems over privacy; inactivity and lethargy among screen-bound youngsters; and people becoming detached from real life and their real communities and relationships.
According to Damian Radcliffe, a professor at the University of Oregon who has studied social media and the Middle East for the past four years, the region is the fastest-growing consumer of videos on Facebook, with video watching in the region running at twice the global average.
“Whatever else happens in 2016, this will continue to be a region where the rise of social will continue to attract considerable interest, not least because of the digital, socio-economic and political implications, which these platforms can unlock,” he says in his fourth annual survey on social media in the region, published last week. “This is an area which does not stand still.”
Two social media networks took off in the region in 2015, WhatsApp and Instagram. According to data from Northwestern University in Qatar, WhatsApp is now the leading social media platform in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014 for US$19 billion.
Prof Radcliffe has also identified the rapid rise of Instagram, also owned by Facebook, in the region, which now has 25 million users in the Middle East.
Among Arab nationals, he says that Instagram use has “exploded” up from 6 per cent of internet users in 2013 to 28 per cent in 2015.
As networks gain more users who spend more time on the networks, inevitably brands will seek to follow that audience.
Globally digital spending is expected to account for half of the overall advertising pie within four years, according to the management consultant McKinsey.
Mobile phone-based advertising is predicted to grow at about twice the rate of non-mobile digital advertising through the end of the decade.
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