The societal and political transformations sweeping the Arab region have empowered large segments of the region’s population. Many stereotypes have been shattered, with Arab youth, “netizens” and women becoming the main drivers for regional change. Arab women in particular have become more engaged in political and civic actions, playing a critical leading role in the rapid and historic changes that have swept the region. Meanwhile, the debate about the role of social media in these transformations has reached policy making circles at the regional and global levels.
Throughout 2011, social media usage continued to grow significantly across the Arab world, coupled with major shifts in usage trends. From merely being used as a tool for social networking and entertainment, social media now infiltrates almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs, affecting the way they interact socially, do business, interact with government, or engage in civil society movements. By the end of 2011, Arab users’ utilization of social media had evolved to encompass civic engagement, political participation, entrepreneurial efforts, and social change. With a critical mass of Arab users in many countries, governments have also begun to recognize social media’s potential to develop more transparent, participatory and inclusive governance models. But while creative and socially-beneficial uses of social media abound, they are accompanied by new-found concerns surrounding issues of security, privacy, freedom of expression, and the disruptive uses of social media on foreign policy making and diplomacy.
The Arab region has recently experienced exponential growth in the use of social media. Previous issues of the Arab Social Media Report have explored this growth, which has been fueled in part by the use of networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the movements of the so-called “Arab spring.” The third edition of the report builds on these timely themes, which specifically explored the exponential growth of social media use in the Arab world, and the role of social networking tools in the civil movements in the Arab region. Given the heightened participation of Arab women in these movements over the past months, despite their diminished use of social media as compared to the world average, this issue of the report will address three main questions:
- Explaining the “Virtual” Gender Gap: What are the factors contributing to the low level of social media use among Arab women, as compared to men’s usage and to the global female average?
- Trends in Social Media Usage: Do Arab women perceive social media as useful to their needs? What are the usage trends?
- Social Media as a Tool for Women’s Empowerment: Can social media potentially increase women’s civic participation in the Arab world and contribute to their political and economic empowerment?
Produced by the Dubai School of Government’s Governance and Innovation Program, the Arab Social Media Report series continues to analyze usage trends of online social networking tools across the Arab region. Based on data collected in the second and third quarters of 2011, this edition of the report analyzes data on Twitter and Facebook users in all 22 Arab countries, in addition to Iran, Israel and Turkey. In another first-of-its-kind regional survey, this special edition of the report explores the role of social media in Arab women’s empowerment. The survey was conducted as a collaborative effort between the Governance and Innovation Program and the Gender and Public Policy Program at the Dubai School of Government.
The Arab Social Media Report series is part of a larger research initiative focusing on social engagement through ICT for better policy in Arab states, which explores the use of social networking services in governance, social inclusion and economic development. The initiative also studies the potential of social networking applications for increasing collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation, both between and among government entities, citizens and the private sector.