Twitter maps the mind to understand Saudi users

Twitter is the only platform where the audience is not interrupted by ads while consuming content. (Courtesy Twitter)
Updated 05 February 2019
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Twitter maps the mind to understand Saudi users

  • Study using brain-imaging technology suggests users react positively to ads on the social platform
  • While ads on some other platforms obtained higher levels of memory encoding than Twitter, these were combined with negative emotional responses

DUBAI: Twitter has turned to brain-imaging technology to study users in Saudi Arabia — with the findings suggesting that ads on the platform are less jarring than those on other social-media sites.

To conduct the study, the company teamed up with UK-based market research company Neuro-Insight, which uses brain-imaging technology to measure how people subconsciously respond to communications.

It explored how young people in Saudi Arabia respond to different types of content on global social media platforms, using brain-mapping technology to judge their receptivity in different mobile environments.

The research found that Twitter is the only platform where the audience is not interrupted by ads while consuming content, and therefore users do not react negatively to them.

It also showed that, while ads on some other platforms obtained higher levels of memory encoding than Twitter, these were combined with negative emotional responses. The ads attracted a high level of visual attention, but users found them jarring, the study suggested.

To conduct the study, Neuro-Insight gave users headsets with sensors that measure the tiny electrical impulses in the brain while participants used Twitter and other social-media platforms.

The measurements showed that ads on Twitter generate a stronger response in the left part of the brain. Ads on other social media platforms generated a stronger memory response on the right side of the brain, implying a more comprehensive response level but with less attention to detail.

The study surveyed 128 male and female social-media users aged between 18 and 44, all based in Saudi Arabia.

The participants, 80 percent of whom were Saudi citizens, were all Arabic speakers and regular Twitter users following at least 100 accounts, in addition to regularly using at least two other social media platforms.

Neuro-Insight CEO Heather Andrew said the study was conducted in Saudi Arabia because it has a large youth population and due to the important role social media plays there.

Neuro-Insight employs a method known as steady state topography (SST) to track the brain’s responses. Like an electroencephalogram (EEG), the technology measures the electrical activity in the brain. But while the EEG method tracks a wide range of frequencies that are complex and can send unclear signals, while SST can focus on more delicate areas of brain activity, hence providing clearer results.

Andrew said that the study suggested that ads on Twitter are less intrusive compared to those on other social media platforms.

“The advertising seems to be more seamless in the Twitter environment,” she said.

“The brain response to ads on Twitter is very similar to the response to all other content. Whereas on some other social-media platforms, ads seem to have a very different brain response — there’s more of a jarring effect. And as a result, ads have a much more positive, emotional response on Twitter.

“For most social-media platforms, when the ads appear you get a negative brain response. Whereas on Twitter, it’s actually more positive.”

Walid Issa, head of research at Twitter MENA, said: “We opted for neuro research in an effort to move beyond claimed responses to a survey, to access what really happens at a subconscious level. Our recent study in cooperation with Neuro-Insight has unlocked the variation of receptivity of users in Saudi Arabia. The study confirmed the belief that social media platforms are used by people for different purposes.”

Issa explained that the study was conducted in Saudi Arabia as it is a key market for Twitter, in the region and globally.

He added: “Twitter connects users to a network that expands far from family and friends, making the content unforeseen, which increases their attention and focus while browsing.”

Twitter on Sunday unveiled a campaign called #ElevatorTweets, which creates an interactive experience of rich media and video on the walls of an elevator.

When the elevator reaches a certain level, tweets appear with information about what is happening in Saudi Arabia relevant to the industry of the business operating on that floor.

  • Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat


News anchors join New Zealand women wearing headscarves for mosque attack victims

Updated 22 March 2019
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News anchors join New Zealand women wearing headscarves for mosque attack victims

  • The AM Show news anchor Amanda Gillies said the gesture 'shows we are united'
  • Newsreaders began broadcasts with Islamic greetings

CHRISTCHURCH: News anchors in New Zealand joined women across the country in wearing headscarves as a show of solidarity on Friday for the victims of last week’s mosques shooting. 

The newsreaders covering the memorial events for the 50 people killed by a white supremacist at two mosques in Christchurch, began broadcasts with Islamic greetings.

They included The AM Show news anchor Amanda Gillies, who said she agonized over whether to cover her hair with a peach-colored scarf.

"There's no way a week ago that I would have, because I would have thought it would have been deemed inappropriate, not right, that I was insulting the Muslim community," Gillies said.

"I'll be honest - I did angst over it today whether I should wear it, because I didn't want to be inappropriate or offend the Muslim community. But I know that they are so welcoming and accepting of it, and I know that a lot of women will wear it today because it just shows that we are united - the solidarity is there, the love and support is there."

Elsewhere, women across the country wore hijabs on an emotional day when the shocked  nation came together to remember those killed.

 A journalist wearing a headscarf as tribute to the victims of the mosque attacks uses her phone before Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. (Reuters)

Rafaela Stoakes, a 32-year-old mother of two, said wearing the Islamic head covering gave her an insight into what it means to stand out and feel part of the minority.

On Friday morning she covered all but a few locks of her dark chestnut-coloured hair in a loose red and white scarf, crossed neatly beneath her chin and tucked into a black hiking jacket.

She was one of many women embracing #HeadScarfforHarmony, to make a stand against the hate espoused by the Australian man who killed dozens of worshippers.

Headscarves were also worn as a mark of respect by policewomen and non-Muslim volunteers directing the crowds around the site in Christchurch holding communal prayers on Friday.

Many were wearing a headscarf for the first time.

"It is amazing how different I felt for the short time I was out this morning," Stoakes told AFP.

"There were a lot of confused looks and some slightly aggressive ones," she said.

"I did feel a sense of pride to honour my Muslim friends, but I also felt very vulnerable and alone as I was the only person wearing one."

"It must take a lot of courage to do this on a daily basis."

The gesture caught on nationwide -- in offices, schools and on the streets -- as well as at the ceremonies held in Christchurch to mark one week since the killings at the hands of a self-avowed white supremacist.

Women flooded Twitter, Facebook and other social media -- which played a key role in allowing the gunman to spread his message -- with their images.

Kate Mills Workman, a 19-year-old student from Wellington, posted a selfie on Twitter wearing a green headscarf.

"If I could I would be attending the mosque and standing outside to show my support for my Muslim whanau but I've got lectures and I can't really skip them," she told AFP, using a Maori language term for extended family.

"Obviously this is all spurred on by the terrible tragedy in Christchurch, but it's also a way of showing that any form of harassment or bigotry based on a symbol of religion is never okay," she added.

"As New Zealanders, we have to make a really strong stand."

Although the headscarf has been the subject of contentious debate over gender rights in the Islamic world, for Stoakes the day has been a lesson in how pious Muslim women often do not have the option to melt away into the background when they feel vulnerable.

"We can nod and pretend to agree with people who we are afraid of, or plead ignorance if we feel in danger of confrontation," she said.

"But a Muslim is just right out there. Like a bullseye. Their hijabs and clothing speak before they do."