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For Some in Arab Nations, Facebook Is the Only News Source That Matters

The Facebook Cafe in downtown Tunis, Tunisia

Photograph by Lindsay Mackenzie/LUZphoto via Redux

The Facebook Cafe in downtown Tunis, Tunisia

When it comes to the evolution of media, and the growing role of social networks in how the news is distributed, there’s often a focus on trends in the U.S. and North America—the death of newspapers, the rise of Facebook (FB) and Twitter, and so on. At least some of these trends appear to be more advanced in other parts of the world: According to a recent survey of attitudes toward the media in a number of Arab nations, Facebook is one of the leading sources of news in countries such as Bahrain and Tunisia.

The survey was conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar and involved interviews with more than 10,000 people from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (which includes Abu Dhabi and Dubai). Although the Arab television networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were the top sources of news in most of the countries that took part in the study, on average Facebook was the third-most popular.

If you look more closely at the numbers, the results for Facebook are hugely influenced by Tunisia, where more than 50 percent of all respondents said the social network was their No. 1 source of news; in Bahrain, only 11 percent said so, while Facebook’s ranking in the UAE was 10 percent of respondents, and in Qatar it was 3 percent. The only countries to mention Twitter were Bahrain, where 8 percent gave it as a top source, and Saudi Arabia, where 3 percent did.

Social media is much more influential

Northwestern journalism professor Justin Martin, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told the media news site that “if you look at the percentages of Internet users who are active on social media sites, it’s much higher than the United States and Australia or western European countries.” Martin said the findings fit with earlier research that shows Arab countries are much more social in their use of media than many western nations:

“Arabs, maybe more than any other culture around the world, have these anchored communities where they receive and share news and information, and they tend to go there often for news and they tend to trust the information from their anchored communities.”
Ingram is a senior writer with GigaOM, where he covers media in all its forms—social and otherwise—as well as Web culture and related issues.

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