Facebook in the Arab world: More popular than newspapers
How popular is Facebook in the Arab world? A new report indicates that there are now more Facebook users in the region than newspaper readers.
Dubai firm Spot On Public Relations tabulated Facebook user statistics to find startling growth for the website in the Arabic-speaking Middle East.
Following the introduction of an Arabic interface for Facebook in March 2009, 3.5 million users signed up for the service in the region, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia showing the strongest growth. More than 3.4 million Egyptians have Facebook accounts, along with 2.3 million Saudis and 1.8 million Moroccans. Along with Tunisia and the UAE, these five countries account for 70% of Facebook users in the Arabic-speaking Middle East (in other words, Iran, Turkey and Israel are not included).
However, the Facebook generation — whether they use the site in Arabic, English or French — is disproporionately well-educated. 50% of users select English for their Facebook interface, with 25% preferring French and Arabic a niche choice at just 23%.
The BBC notes that this means more people in the Arab world use Facebook than read newspapers. The total number of newspaper copies printed in the Arab world (including Arabic, English and French publications) hovers around 14 million. There are more than 15 million registered Facebook users in the Arab world.
While the statistic is surprising, it is not unlikely. Newspapers in Arab countries are overwhelmingly heavily censored and mind-bogglingly dull. With rare exceptions such as the expat-oriented Daily Star (Lebanon) and Dubai’s The National, the place for discourse in this part of the world skews towards the internet, satellite news networks like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya and foreign Arabic newspapers such as Britain’s al-Quds al-Arabi.
Facebook, whose censorship and limited free speech policies are the result of a profit-driven American internet startup rather than a repressive post-colonial dictatorship, is also turning into an unexpectedly fertile platform for free speech in the region. Potential Egyptian Presidential candidate Mohammed el-Baradei is conducting much of his campaign on Facebook rather than in the (dangerous) streets.
While Spot On Public Relations has an obvious bias in promoting Facebook’s usage in the Arab world — the bulk of the agency’s work focuses on new media — the methodology of the study appears legitimate and accurate.