Meet the Arab social media generation


London, The Arab Weekly – Twitter hashtag #Arabyouthsurvey was trending following the publication of the eighth Asda’a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, aptly demon­strating young Arabs’ close rela­tionship with social media.

The survey indicated that, in the post-“Arab spring” Middle East, so­cial media are more important than ever. For Arab youth, social media are means to communicate with each other, interact with the world and consume and share news.

“Throughout the Middle East, social media have emerged as a replacement for the lack of public space. This is not a complacent and subservient youth that feels con­strained by the governing practices of the past. Rather, it is a youth that actively seeks a broader and deeper role for itself in shaping its own environment and the societies in which they live,” said a report on the survey, titled Inside the Hearts and Minds of Arab Youth.

For Palestinian-Canadian writer Chaker Khazaal, who has more than 250,000 twitter followers and was selected “most influential young Arab” by Arabian Business magazine in 2016, the role of social media could not be more impor­tant. “Arab youth are engaged in social media because it has given them a voice to express their opin­ions on social, political and civic matters directly to their peers and unfiltered from any forms of op­pression,” said Khazaal, who spoke on the Arab Youth Survey panel.

“Social media have become the only independent voice where Arab youth, journalists, [non-gov­ernmental organisations] and ac­tivists can express their individual point of view.”

Instant messaging service What­sApp is, by far, the most popular social media platform with about 60% of young Arabs saying they use it on a daily basis; 55% of re­spondents said they used Facebook daily, compared to 33% who said they used YouTube and 28% who used Twitter or Instagram.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is one of the most popular messag­ing apps in the Middle East and not just for young people. One of the reasons for the app’s popularity is its perceived strong encryption, with WhatsApp recently providing even stronger end-to-end encryp­tion in an update.

“WhatsApp has always priori­tised making your data and com­munication as secure as possible… No one can see inside the message. Not cybercriminals. Not hack­ers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us,” WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum wrote in a blog post an­nouncing the latest update.

It is in their news consumption that Arab youth habits are chang­ing the most and fastest. The Arab Youth Survey appeared to strike the death knell for print media, with 7% of respondents saying they read newspapers on a daily basis. In 2011, the year that marked the start of the “Arab spring”, 62% of Arabs aged 18-24 said they read newspa­pers on a daily basis.

Overall, most young Arabs con­tinue to get their news from tel­evision (63%) and online sources (45%) but social media are becom­ing increasingly popular ways of consuming and particularly sharing news; 52% of respondents said they used Facebook to share interesting news articles, up from 41% in 2015. About one-third of those asked said they used social media in general — without specifying which plat­forms — to obtain their daily dose of news, with social media and on­line news consumption necessarily going hand-in-hand.

“Newspapers and traditional forms of media need to provide a platform and voice without any re­strictions to Arab youth. This will renew the youth’s faith in these in­stitutions and therefore allow their continuity, rather than it being the end of them,” Khazaal said. “Social media have and will continue to provide a much needed check and balance on the media industry as a whole and I believe society ben­efits from this contrast of points of view.”

Arab youth are following global trends with more people accessing news through social media net­works. A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center said that 63% of Facebook and Twitter users said they get news from the sites, with young people particularly relying on social media as news sources.

The chapter focusing on young Arabs’ use of media, titled The Age of Social, was written by Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

“This preference to digest news digitally — and often on the move — is only likely to increase as smart­phones become increasingly af­fordable. The GSMA, a trade body for the global mobile industry, an­ticipates that the number of smart­phone connections in the region will grow by 117 million to 327 mil­lion by the end of the decade,” he wrote.

“For some audiences, social me­dia are the primary means by which news and information are both dis­covered and distributed, a trait that is only going to become more prev­alent,” Radcliffe said in the report.

“As social networks develop further links with publishers, gov­ernment entities and other media providers, their influence — and im­portance — is only going to grow.”

This article was originally published here.