Mind your language: Middle East social media users hesitant over privacy concerns

Published May 5th, 2016 - 09:43 GMT
Concerns over what users say online and how it shows up in feeds may be holding back growth. (Shutterstock/Bloomua)
Concerns over what users say online and how it shows up in feeds may be holding back growth. (Shutterstock/Bloomua)

Privacy concerns are starting to trump, or at least shadow, what Middle East users have to say on their social media feeds. Twitter, the micro-messaging platform, has been impacted the most, according to a survey by Northwestern University in Qatar on media consumption patterns.

Twitter feeds have seen the “biggest decline over the past three years, 17 percentage points, with a 12 percentage point drop from just one year ago,” the survey states. “Three-quarters of Egyptian internet users say that concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, second only to the 89 per cent of Saudis who say the same.”

According to the findings, more internet users are concerned about corporate surveillance of their online activity (42 per cent) than government surveillance (31 per cent). And over two-thirds said they have changed their social media behaviour due to concerns about privacy.

But direct messaging apps such as WhatsApp and SnapChat are gaining in prominence. In fact, the “video-centric” SnapChat is “now among the most popular platforms in high bandwidth Gulf countries,” the report adds.

These findings will have implications for the region’s advertising industry, still far from catching up with more mature markets in placing campaigns on digital/social media on a per capita basis. On their part, social media platforms will also have to address strongly user concerns that their data and what they say is not under constant scrutiny.

Use of Instagram — the photo and, now, video sharing platform — has soared in usage across the region — by 24 percentage points between 2013 and 2016, while Facebook’s dipped in the last three years by 6 percentage points, going by the survey numbers.

Outside of social media, the region’s media consumption patterns are also in a state of flux.

Web TV service providers are blanketing the region, and the recent entry of Netflix has prised open the market even further. But they will be concerned with this bit of finding from the Northwestern University survey — only 5 per cent of users have paid for the content consumed by them in the past year, But more than two-thirds of users are now catching up on their film viewing online.

But fewer numbers are doing so in front of their TV sets … in Saudi Arabia TV viewing is down a steep 16 per cent and in Qatar by 21 per cent. Even then, “Television remains the platform of choice in the Middle East for watching films — 90 per cent say they watch films on TV,” the report notes.

Many ways to catching up on news

* Among Middle East states, daily newspaper readership is highest in the UAE (25 per cent) and Qatar (32 per cent). The latter also leads in consuming news online daily (42 per cent), along with Saudi Arabia (39 per cent). But in Egypt the popularity of news as a top-three favourite TV genre decreased by 10 percentage points since 2014, while the that of drama and religious/spiritual TV programming gained 12 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

* TV is the most used platform for listening to music (65 per cent of all nationals), compared to internet and radio (41 per cent and 35 per cent).

* The fieldwork for the poll was conducted face-to-face and by telephone from December 20, 2015 to February 27, 2016.

* In another report released this week, this one from Accenture, most consumers — 61 per cent — are aware of several options to remove advertising (such as ad blockers). The survey of 28,000 consumers across 28 countries also found that more than four in 10 said they would pay to eliminate ad interruptions.

By Manoj Nair


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