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Report: Facebook, Twitter rivaling traditional media in Arab world

About 30% of people now consider social media as their main source of news

Hind Mustafa

Published: Updated:

The likes of Facebook and Twitter are now just as likely to be used as ‘primary’ sources of news as the traditional media, a pan-Arab survey has found.

Almost 30 percent of people in the region consider social media as their main source of news – a similar proportion as those citing outlets like newspapers and television.

That was a key finding of the Arab Social Media Outlook 2014, which was published on the opening day of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai.

Around 71 million Arabs use social media out of the 135 million individuals who have access the web, according to the report, which was produced by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) in cooperation with the Dubai Press Club.

“Social media is actively competing with conventional media as a primary source of news for millions of Arabs,” said Fadi Salem, director of the Governance and Innovation Program at the MBRSG and co-author of the report.

“Nearly 30 percent of individuals participating in the survey consider social media to be their primary source of news, which is similar to the percentage of individuals considering conventional media outlets as the main source of news.”

Lewa Abukhait, a board member of Social Media Club UAE, said people view social media as "almost the only honest available" media outlet.

“The Arab Spring also contributed to this, where the young generation started searching for an honest source of news and information, away from conventional media,” Abukhait said.

The Social Media Club aims to expand social media literacy, encourage ethical behavior on the platform and discuss its use in the country.

Egypt was found to have the largest Facebook user base in the Arab world in 2013, the report noted. More than half of the population of the United Arab Emirates now access the social network, one million more than in 2013, it said.

“The increase of social media use and penetration in the Arab World is very obvious, we don’t need a report to tell us that, if anything, the numbers have exploded,” Abukhait said.

Social media in education

Around 55 percent of teachers included in the study utilize social media as tools for education, the report noted. But 56 percent of parents expressed concern over the distraction that social media platforms may create.

Ten percent of respondents had children in schools which utilize social media platforms as education tools in classes, the report revealed.

“[The report] did not define using social media in education. How is social media used as a tool in education, and what does it offer to them inside the classroom?” Abukhait asked.

Abukhait was not very supportive of the increasing usage of social media inside schools, due to a shortage of educational content available through social media in Arabic or for the Arab world.

“We do not have an educational content in Arabic [that’s] large enough to justify the usage of social media as an educational tool; we have a severe shortage in it,” he said.

However, Abukhait supports the usage of internet in education “to search or and obtain information.”