Talking about Arab Social Media

When talking about the use of social media in the Arab world, we have to take into account many differences from other parts of the world. It's easy to find guides and tools written and built from a Western perspective, but not so easy to find them written from an Arab perspective. Some points you may want to discuss with participants include:

  • The internet is not as well-developed in the Arab world as in other parts of the world, which means that internet literacy also lags.
  • Boolean search is not widely taught so keyword searching is not always intuitive
  • Email communication techniques are sometimes less sophisticated and professional among some users
  • Infrastructure, varies by country and within countries
  • Penetration rates vary widely
    • Jordan
    • Lebanon
    • Morocco
    • Tunisia
    • Yemen
  • Freedom of expression varies greatly from country to country
  • Facebook is very popular
  • Connection between online and offline is often very strong
  • Social media is seen as a useful bridge to Western media and government (Tunisia and Egypt)
  • Cost of internet access and telecom on average is higher in many Arab countries than in other parts of the world
  • Arabic content makes up less than about 1 percent of all web content, meaning that web use often implies having to work in a second language and culture
  • Fastest growth rate of internet use in the world in among Arab countries
  • Can be a vast difference in technical literacy of people online versus people offline, which can lead to all kinds of wrong assumptions
  • Very little granulated data about usage, although some initiatives and companies are trying to address this
  • Traditional media is widely controlled by the state and/or political parties (Lebanon, especially), and sometimes censored
  • Mobiles may be more useful in rural areas and/or high mobile penetration countries
  • Copy-paste without attribution is common
  • Broadly speaking, Arab culture relies more on information from social ties than from official institutions or data
  • Privacy and security issues differ from those in the West, especially with regard to government surveillance and spam
  • We must be more careful of how we represent others, so as not to unknowingly expose them
  • We must know our media environments and laws, so that we understand the risks of, for example, allowing others to publish and/or contribute to our online presences
  • Many decision makers aren't online
  • What else can you add to the list? For your country?

So what does this mean?
  • Social media may more often be an indirect pathway to change than other methods, though still important
  • We must know a lot about who we're trying to engage