DUBAI: Egypt saw the highest increase in the number of Facebook users during the first quarter of 2011 among the Arab countries, adding close to two million Facebook users, according to the second Arab Social Media Report (ASMR).
Meanwhile, the number of Facebook users in the Arab world in general reached 27.7 million by the end of Q1 2011, an increase of 30 percent since the beginning of the year, the report added.
The report is the second edition of a series produced by the Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government. This edition monitored the growth of Facebook and Twitter in the region, propelled by the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. It revealed a substantial shift in the use of social media from social purposes towards civic and political action.
During the civil movements sweeping the Arab region, several governments occasionally blocked access to the internet and social media networks. The report surveyed Facebook users in Tunisia and Egypt and found that six out of 10 respondents in both countries indicated that blocking access actually provided a boost to the movements, spurring protesters to more decisive and creative action.
The survey also indicated that around 85 percent of respondents in both countries considered that social media usage during the movements in their countries was mainly for organizing people, disseminating information and raising awareness about the social movements.
With regards to Twitter, the report indicated that the number of active users on the micro-blogging website in the Arab world by the end of Q1 2011 was over 1.1 million users who tweeted at least once every two weeks.
These ‘active users’ generated over 22.7 million tweets during Q1 2011. Regional Twitter trends during this period focused primarily on events unfolding during the Arab uprisings. The words ‘Egypt’, ‘Jan25’, ‘Libya’, ‘Bahrain’ and ‘protest’ were the top ‘hashtags’ used by Twitter users in the Arab region.
The report noted that though the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon are the leading five countries in the region according to the percentage of Facebook and Twitter users, social media growth was the fastest in those countries experiencing social unrest.
Fadi Salem, director of DSG’s Governance and Innovation Program and co-author of the report, said, “Social media and its ability to influence grassroots civic engagements, participatory governance models and new social dynamics have been under intense debate in the Arab world in 2011. The growth of social media and the shifts in usage trends have played a critical role in mobilizing, empowering, shaping opinions and influencing change among the youth in the Arab world. A critical mass of young and influential social media users exists today, who lead the shift of usage trends from social into political nature across the region.”
The findings of the report provide empirical evidence regarding the changing nature of social media usage in the region. According to the report, youth between 15 and 29 continue to account for around 70 percent of Arab Facebook users at the end of Q1 2011, while women constitute just a third of users across the region.
Racha Mourtada, research associate with the Governance and Innovation Program at DSG and lead author of the report, said, “Governments in the region have responded to the rise of social media in a variety of ways. While some have tried to block it, others have used social media to engage directly with their citizens. The Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government has worked closely with governments in the region to develop official guidelines to promote social media usage by the government.”
The Arab Social Media Report series aims to highlight and analyze usage trends of Facebook and Twitter across the Arab world. It is part of a larger research initiative focusing on social engagement through information and social networking technologies for better policy, good governance and social inclusion in Arab states. The initiative specifically aims at studying the potential of such applications for increasing collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation by fostering participation, whether within and/or between governments, citizens and the private sector.
Established in 2005 in cooperation with the Harvard Kennedy School, the Dubai School of Government is committed to the creation of knowledge and dissemination of global best practices in the Arab world. The school conducts various programs that seek to enhance the region’s capacity for effective public policies.