Arab users of social networking sites surge in 2012

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The number of Arab social networking users has surged to record highs in 2012, as Arabic becomes one of the most widely used language on Facebook and Twitter, a social media report has found.

The number of Facebook users in the Arab world reached 43 million in April 2012, the Arab Technical News Gateway reported this week.

According to the study, the United Arab Emirates ranked first, with the highest percentage (of its population) of social media users, followed by Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Tunisia.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, holds the largest number of Facebook users in the region, constituting one quarter of the total number of Arab users.

The percentage of Arab Facebook users out of the world’s total users has risen from 4 percent two years ago to around 12 percent in April 2012, said Fadi Salem, head of the Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government and one of the writers of the report.

Salem added that 70 percent of the Arab users are youths. This, he said, demonstrates the way social media is used as a means of influencing change, in reference to the political unrest sweeping the region since 2011.

Arab users of Twitter have also been remarkably increasing. According to the report more than 1.3 million Arabs are currently using Twitter and by the end of March 2012 they produced a total of 172 million tweets.

Saudi Arabia ranks first in the number of Twitter users, estimated at 393,000 and around 88 percent of the tweets produced in March 2012 were from Kuwait, Saudi, Egypt, UAE, and Bahrain.

The report also pointed out the difference between male and female users of social media in the Arab world.

Use of Facebook and Twitter among Arab females has witnessed a slight rise from 32 percent at the end of 2010 to 34 percent in the first quarter of 2012 even though women make up almost half of the Arab population, the report noted.

But this percentage is not in line with the role played by Arab women in the political changes that took place in several countries in the region, said Rasha Mortada, researcher at the Governance and Innovation Program and the main author of the report.

The huge gap between male and female users of social media in the Arab world, Mortada explains, is attributed to cultural norms and the restrictions still imposed on a sizable portion of Arab women which makes their full participation in social and political change much harder than men.

The final version of the report, prepared in coordination with the Gender and Public Policy Program, stated that despite this discrepancy between the number of men and women on social networking websites, the virtual world is still seen as a means of empowering women.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)