NU-Q researchers look at Middle East social media landscape

Alice Yin, Campus Editor

A survey this year from Northwestern’s Qatar campus found that Middle Eastern countries are seeing more optimism and less online criticism.

The researchers looked at media use in Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, surveying more than 6,000 respondents, Northwestern said a news release. The study concluded that overall, respondents expressed that their country was headed in the right direction.

“When we conducted our first study in 2013, there was enthusiasm for the idea that the Arab Spring might mark the start of a movement toward more freedom of expression,” said Everette Dennis, dean of NU-Q and co-principal investigator of the study, in a news release. “That notion has been slowed by failures in places like Egypt, but the idea that the Arab Spring is dead remains unfounded. The thirst for social media in the region, coupled with improved and transparent media coverage, represents some of the extremely positive conclusions within our report.”

The study also found that from 2013, the Middle East saw a decline in Facebook and Twitter users, while users ballooned for Instagram and WhatsApp, which is now the most-used messaging application in the world, according to the press release.

Fieldwork for the survey was completed in the winter, with results examined throughout spring quarter. Currently, the study is funded for another three years with support from the Qatar National Research Fund and Doha Film Institute.

“We have developed an interactive website that allows users to compare countries and sort data in a variety of ways,” Dennis said. “One of the project’s most exciting aspects is that our scientific approach has been accepted by each government. This allows us to discuss a topic like censorship, which is virtually taboo in the region.”

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