Annual NU-Qatar study examines digital trends, challenges stereotypes of media use in Middle East


(Daily file photo by Rafi Letzter)

The skyline of Doha, Qatar, near Northwestern’s campus in Education City. A study conducted by a team from Northwestern Qatar challenged stereotypes of selected countries, said Everette Dennis, NU-Q dean and CEO.

Ally Mauch, Assistant Campus Editor

Fewer internet users in the Middle East are active on Facebook and Twitter today than in 2015, instead turning to other social media platforms, according to a Northwestern Qatar study.

The study, produced yearly since 2013, collected data from various countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia. Focusing on media use in the Middle East, the study examines areas including popular social media platforms and news consumption trends.

NU-Q dean and CEO Everette Dennis, who contributed to the research, said the study was designed to help NU-Q journalism students learn more about their audience’s media consumption habits.

He added that the study attracted attention both within the region and globally, which has generated conversation and challenged stereotypes about the countries.

Justin Martin, an NU-Q professor who worked on the report, said countering the false perceptions about the Middle East is one of the “joys” of working on the study. One such perception, he said, is that the Arab region is not digitally innovative.

“In parts of North America and Western Europe, there’s a belief that the Arab region is not as modern as other parts of the world or even worse, some stereotypes say the Arab region is backward,” Martin said. “We have data that shows that’s not true.”

For example, Martin said, in five of the countries studied, a greater percentage of people own smartphones than in the United States.

“Nearly all nationals in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE own a smartphone and nearly as many Jordanians,” according to the report. “In comparison, only 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone.”

Additionally, Dennis said the Middle East is “very active” with social media use. However, he said the specific platforms being used have changed over the years.

Since 2015, the study found that among internet users, the percentage who use Facebook has declined 11 points, and the percentage who use Twitter has declined 15 points.

However, the percentage of internet users who use Snapchat has increased 23 points in the past two years, and the percentage who use Instagram has increased 10 points.

The study also found that about two-thirds of Arab nationals from the selected countries consume news on smartphones, but less than half trust news from social media.

“It’s probably a good thing to be more scrutinizing when it comes to news they get from social media platforms as opposed to news organizations that are trusted and time-tested,” Martin said.

Martin added that age plays a factor in trusting news on social media. He said adults between ages 18 and 24 are more likely to trust news from social media and are better at navigating it because they are “digital natives.”

Dennis told The Daily this research is unique because it is an independent project for the school, rather than an individual faculty effort.

“It represents the whole school and we think that’s important to stimulate research … and also to encourage people use our data,” Dennis said. “It is one of the most important things we do.”

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