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Facebook use has plummeted in the Middle East, survey says

A new survey from Northwestern University in Qatar offers some interesting findings about media consumption habits and patterns in Middle Eastern countries. Ongoing since 2013, the survey has tracked news consumption trends, social media use, how citizens use the internet, and a flurry of other digital topics. This year something stood out: Facebook has dropped in the region, and is plummeting in certain places.

WhatsApp tops the list of social media used by nationals across the region with two-thirds of nationals using it, compared to a marginally lower rate for Facebook and only one-half using YouTube. [Image: Northwestern University of Qatar ]
According to the study, Facebook penetration declined by 20 percentage points since 2013 (94% in 2013 to 74% in 2017), with significant drops in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In a separate analysis, the study found that Facebook usage increased significantly in Egypt since 2013. (See chart above.) “Most internet users, 60% to 80%, use Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube,” the study says, “while one-quarter to just over one-third of internet users use Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter (80% WhatsApp, 74% Facebook, 60% YouTube vs. 39% Instagram, 28% Snapchat, 24% Twitter).”

The most popular social platform used throughout the region, says the study, is WhatsApp with “two-thirds of nationals using it.”

In the Middle East, concerns about surveillance, particularly from corporations, is rising. And only 47% of respondents said they trusted news they saw on social media—and even fewer said they trusted Western news. (Americans are “even more likely to feel this way,” according to the researchers.) Interestingly enough, the survey found that citizens concerned about government surveillance were more likely to use Facebook than other platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were widely hailed as helping to catalyze the Arab Spring. Now it seems that though the Middle East is digitally connected—five countries in the region boast more smartphone use than the U.S.—many citizens have moved on to other non-Facebook platforms.

Facebook use is high everywhere except in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where penetration dropped by over 20 percentage points since 2015 to 22% in Qatar and 55% in Saudi Arabia. [Image: Northwestern University of Qatar ]
Facebook says it has a growing active user base; in its most recent earnings call the company said its monthly active users grew 17% year-over-year to 2.01 billion. (It’s worth noting that some have questioned the company’s numbers.) Over the last few years, the company’s focused on growing its network in emerging markets like India and South America.

You can read the full Northwestern University report here and watch a video summary here: