Below are the key findings from this study, which are explored in detail in the chapters that follow. Results are based on in-person and telephone surveys of 7,303 respondents across seven Arab countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Data were collected June 20 to October 06, 2019.
- Tunisians, Lebanese, and Qataris report having the most followers/friends on social media platforms, Saudis and Emiratis the least. (Respondents were asked about their network sizes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.)
- The percentages of Arab nationals using the Facebook-owned platforms of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger have been flat since 2017. However, use of Facebook proper, which had been falling in Arab countries since 2014, rebounded somewhat in 2019, driven by increased penetration in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. This may be partly due to gaming options Facebook began offering in March 2019.
- Twitter penetration rates have fallen or stagnated in most countries since 2018.
- Women are more likely than men in three countries (Tunisia, Qatar, and UAE) to share photos or videos online that personally feature themselves however, in Jordan, men are more likely than women to share such content. (No measurable gender differences were observed in Egypt, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia.)
- Snapchat penetration plummeted in Qatar and the UAE but rose modestly in Saudi Arabia and several countries outside the Arab Gulf: Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.
- The share of Arab nationals who get news on TV every day has fallen since 2017 and is now at parity with the percentage of nationals who get news online every day (nearly 7 in 10). More specifically, the percentage of nationals who get news every day from a smartphone has risen since 2017 in every country but Tunisia.
- Getting news on smartphones is increasingly common yet posting or sharing news online is less common among nationals than in 2017.
- The proportion of nationals getting news every day fell across multiple content areas: their local community, their country, other Arab countries, and non-Arab countries.
- More Arab nationals get news on Facebook (42%), WhatsApp (30%), and YouTube (24%) than from any other major social media platforms.
Media Use by Platform
- TV use, previously more resistant to decline in Arab countries than in other parts of the world, has started to fall: 98% of Arab nationals in 2013 watched TV at least sometimes, and in 2019 that figure is 86%.
- Large majorities of nationals in Arab Gulf countries listen to podcasts—more than in the other Arab countries in the study and also more than people in the U.S.
- The percentage of nationals using Netflix increased in most Arab countries surveyed from 2018 to 2019, while Shahid penetration fell in most countries. Netflix penetration has pulled roughly even with Shahid penetration in five of the seven countries.
- Anghami is more commonly used by nationals in all countries to stream music than is Spotify, with the exception of the UAE. Fewer than one in 10 nationals in any country use Spotify.
- The percentage of nationals who binge-watch TV or online series fell in five countries from 2018 to 2019 (all but Jordan and Lebanon), and the highest figure was 47% in Qatar, which is much lower than the same binge-watching figure in the U.S. (U.S.: 80%, Limelight Network, 2019).
- The percentage of nationals who exercise or play sports at least once a week has fallen in five of seven countries in this study since 2017; the exceptions are Jordan and Egypt, where the share of nationals who exercise is comparatively low and unchanged.
- If given the choice, nationals in all countries except the UAE are more likely to prefer watching a professional sporting event on TV or online versus watching the event in-person.
- Use of the internet in Arabic has continued to increase—79% of nationals now use the internet in Arabic, up from 69% in 2018, while using the internet in English (31%) has changed little.
- Arab nationals own smartphones in all Arab countries at rates similar to or higher than in the U.S., including in middle-income countries of Egypt and Jordan. The only exception is Tunisia where smartphone penetration nonetheless increased to 72% by 2019.
- One in four Arab nationals uses a smartwatch to access the internet, and one in five nationals uses a smart home device to do so.
- In Egypt, where internet penetration has been and remains the lowest among the countries in this study since its inception, 75% of nationals now use the internet, roughly even with Tunisia.
- Arab nationals in 2019 report spending less time with family and friends each week both online and in-person compared to 2018.
- Just over half of Arab internet users (53%) say they use the internet on a computer, a steep decline from 2018 (73%). Ninety-six percent of internet users use the internet on a smartphone.
- The percentage of nationals who completed online coursework toward an academic degree in the prior year increased since 2017 in most (four of seven) countries.
- One in 10 or more of nationals in all countries, except Egypt and Lebanon, say they had worked online toward an educational degree or certificate in the prior year. One-third of Qataris in 2019 worked online toward an academic degree or certificate in the prior year, a large increase since 2018.
- Compared to 2017, nationals in several countries are more likely to say governments should not prevent people from criticizing governments, or from saying things offensive about religions or to minority groups.
- The percentages of nationals who say they feel comfortable speaking out about politics has fallen sharply in four countries since 2018 (Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and UAE) but has remained the same or risen modestly in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
- Since 2018, the percentages of Emiratis and Qataris who say people should be free to express unpopular ideas on the internet declined sharply.
- Only in three countries do majorities of nationals believe people should be able to criticize governments online (Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia); minorities in Qatar and the UAE agree, and Jordanians are split. (The question was not permitted in Egypt).
- Arab nationals in most countries more likely say WhatsApp, versus other social platforms, provides the most privacy; Tunisia is the exception as a plurality of nationals says no social media platform protects privacy.
- Fewer than half of nationals in all countries share photos or videos personally featuring themselves on social media, except in Lebanon where 51% of nationals do so.
- Within countries, similar percentages of nationals say they worry about governments, companies, and other internet users monitoring what they do online.
- However, Saudis are more concerned about online surveillance than other nationals, regardless of the specific kind of monitoring, and Qataris are least concerned about online surveillance compared to other nationals.
- The percentage of nationals who say they have changed their social media usage for privacy reasons has fallen since 2018 in every country surveyed except Egypt.
- Roughly half or more of nationals in four countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan) worry about companies using information about them without their consent.
Bias and Credibility
- In most countries where large percentages of nationals say they trust news media, large percentages of nationals also say they trust news from social media.
- Higher proportions of nationals in five countries say that international news coverage is biased toward their country than say such coverage is biased against their country. The opposite is the case in Lebanon. (The question wasn’t permitted by officials in Egypt.)
- The percentage of nationals who believe news media in their country are credible increased or was unchanged since 2018 in all countries, except in Qatar, where the figure decreased precipitously.
- The percentages of nationals who see international news coverage as biased toward Arab countries other than their own has increased in four of six countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and UAE) since 2017. (The question was not permitted in Egypt.)
- Arab nationals in the survey are much less likely than non-nationals to say they trust news media across several origins: in general, in their country, on social media, from Western countries, and from other Arab countries.
Social Media Influencers
- Three in 10 nationals look at online posts from social media influencers at least once a day, more than the proportion of nationals who check email or play games with the same frequency.
- The percentages of nationals in four countries (Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and UAE) who get news from social media influencers at least once a day is greater than the percentage who get news from newspapers at least once a day.
- Three in 10 nationals look at Instagram posts/stories by social media influencers, and slightly fewer nationals (24%) do the same on Facebook, among users of each platform.
- Non-nationals are more likely than nationals to follow social media influencers and to engage with influencers online.
Focus on Qatar
- Qataris report spending less time online in 2019 than in previous years. Meanwhile, the percentage of Qataris who get news from TV at least once a day increased between 2017 and 2019, from 39% to 68%.
- The amount of time Qataris report spending in-person with family each week has fallen dramatically since 2017, from 43 to 11 hours per week in 2019. Qataris also report spending less time in 2019 than in 2017 online with family and both in-person and online with friends. Other countries in this study have also seen decreases in these measures, though the differences are less stark.
- The percentages of Qataris using WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have fallen sharply since 2017. Facebook penetration, which had been falling in Qatar since 2015, rose between 2018 and 2019, from 9% to 30%.
- Qataris are less likely than any other nationals to say the internet in their country should be regulated for political or culturally sensitive content.