This article is authored by Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers professor of journalism at the University of Oregon and Payton Bruni, a journalism student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, who is also minoring in Arabic Studies.
The Middle East is a large, diverse, region. The fact that one-third of the population is below the age of 15 years, and a further one in five of the population is aged 15-24 years old, means that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is one of the most youthful regions on the planet.
Since the Arab Spring, there has been increased interest in the role that media, and in particular social media, plays in the region. Our recent report, State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 explored this topic in depth. Here we outline the implications our research has for journalists.
News consumption for Arab youth is social media-led
"Young Arabs are now getting their news first on social media, not television. This year, our survey reveals almost two thirds (63 per cent) of young Arabs say they look first to Facebook and Twitter for news. Three years ago, that was just a quarter."
YouTube is huge. And growing
The number of YouTube channels in MENA has risen by 160 per cent in the past three years. More than 200 YouTube channels in the region have over one million subscribers. Over 30,000 channels have more than 10,000 subscribers.
In 2017, the 16 nation Arab youth survey also reported that YouTube is viewed daily by half of young Arabs.
To encourage further growth of the network, Google opened a YouTube Space at Dubai’s Studio City in March 2018, the tenth such hub to be opened by YouTube around the globe.
According to Arabian Business, content creators with more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers enjoy "free access to audio, visual and editing equipment, as well as training programmes, workshops and courses. Those with more than 1,000 subscribers will have access to workshops and events hosted at the space."
In most countries, Facebook has yet to falter
The social network now has 164 million active monthly users in the Arab world. This is up from 56 million Facebook users just five years earlier.
Interestingly, in contrast to many other markets, 61 per cent of Arab youth say they use Facebook more frequently than a year ago, suggesting the network is still growing.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the region with a population of over 100 million, remains the biggest national market for Facebook in the region, with 24 million daily users and nearly 37 million monthly mobile users.
Saudi Arabia is a social media pioneer
"In 2018, YouTube upstaged long-time leader Facebook to become the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia," reported Global Media Insight, a Dubai based digital interactive agency.
Data shared by the agency showed YouTube has 23.62 million active users, in the country, with Facebook coming in second with 21.95 million users.
Alongside this, although there are about 12 million daily users of Snapchat in the Gulf region (an area comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) a staggering 9 million of these are in Saudi Arabia (compared to 1 million in UAE).
A complicated relationship with platforms
Despite YouTube’s wide popularity in the MENA region, the company faced some pushback in the past year, after the network was accused of removing online evidence of Syrian chemical attacks.
Meanwhile, YouTube suspended accounts belonging to Syria's public international news organisation (SANA,) the Ministry of Defence, and the Syrian Presidency "after a report claimed the channels were violating US sanctions and generating revenue from ads," Al Jazeera reported.
More generally, social networks have a complicated relationship with the region, with service blocks, or the banning of certain features (such as video calling) being relatively common place, and both news organisations and individuals, can fall foul of greater levels of government oversight.
Derogatory posts have resulted in deportations of residents from UAE, while in 2018, the Egyptian government passed legislation categorising social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, thereby exposing them to monitoring by the authorities.
To find out more, download the full study State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank, or view it online via Scribd, SlideShare, ResearchGate and Academia.Edu.