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Social Networks and cell phones in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions

Omer Karasapan's picture
When the Arab Spring broke out and regimes began to fall under the pressure of their own citizens, a revolution on social media also took hold. During this critical period, the use of Facebook and Twitter was ubiquitous, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. Social networks and cell phones played an important role in relaying information, documenting abuse, and assisting with the logistics and messaging of the revolutions in the region.

Two years later much has changed and continues to change across the political landscape. But what remains relevant and important is the ever-growing use of social media and cell-phones. A recent Pew survey confirms this global phenomenon.

The survey identifies broad trends that apply across 21 countries that were surveyed, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. These universal trends include the fact that the young (under the age of thirty) use both smart phones and social networks more than older people. College educated individuals tend to use these platforms more than those who are not. There are, however, some regional differences.

To start off, 34 percent of respondents in Lebanon and Tunisia use social networking sites, as do 30 percent of those in Egypt and 29 percent in Jordan. Taking into account the disparities in income, education, etc. these figures in MENA are not that far off from Britain (52%), US (50%), and Russia (50%) – countries which are the highest users.  The survey also allows us to gain insight into internet usage in MENA – 63 percent of Egyptians, 51 percent of Lebanese, 65 percent of Jordanians and 57 percent of Tunisians fall into the non-user category (for more on this see reference to Gallup poll below).

The major difference between the Arab responders to the survey and the rest of the world is that people in MENA largely use their social networks to share their views on politics and religion. Of all countries in the poll, the median percentage of those sharing views on politics was 34 percent and religion was 14 percent; these numbers were over 60 percent in the polled Arab countries. A fairly large difference was also apparent in sharing views on community issues – see table below for how the Arab countries differ in that respect. Lebanon is an outlier here when it comes to religion.



Cell phone usage is nearly universal according to the survey:  Jordan with 94 percent of respondents having a cell-phone and Tunisia with 91 percent - numbers on par with the developed world and surpassing countries like France (86%) and Germany (89%). Egypt with 76 percent and Lebanon with 82 percent are not far behind.

Smart phones are defined in the survey as those who own phones and use them to regularly access the internet.

There are no significant regionally-based differences when looking at what people are accessing with their smart phones (social networks, consumer info, and political news) except for one. Arab respondents are significantly below the median of 46 percent in using their phones for work purposes – especially in Egypt (18%) and Jordan (17%). The numbers are 37 percent in Lebanon and 39 percent in Tunisia.

Another recent poll on internet access by Gallup (January 14, 2013) is interesting in showing how technology is blurring the lines: So when Gallup asks "Does your Home Have Access to the Internet?" they add the following qualifying paragraph:

"These results reflect responses to a core Gallup question -- "Does your home have access to the Internet?" -- asked of adults worldwide. It is important to note that these results reflect the percentage of adults who answered yes, rather than the percentage of households in a given country with Internet access. Additionally, it is possible that adults have access to the Internet through other means, including schools and universities, public libraries, Internet cafes, and smart phones. In the case of smart phones, it is possible some respondents consider this home Internet access while others do not.”

So for what it's worth – and as Gallup suggests that may not be much – here are the numbers for the Arab countries:

                             Does your home have access to the internet?

Comments

Submitted by Andres Valencia on
What an interesting article!!! I believe that social networks and cell phones have more potential to offer. The World Bank has courses to teach social networks and cell phones to diminish the technology gap in Arab countries?

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