Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Hundreds of fashionable youngsters are a common sight in posh Cairo districts these days, carrying expensive cameras and trendy clothes in their backpacks -- ready to pose for a photo shoot wherever possible. (AFP/File Photo)
Hundreds of fashionable youngsters are a common sight in posh Cairo districts these days, carrying expensive cameras and trendy clothes in their backpacks -- ready to pose for a photo shoot wherever possible. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 
  • From social change to extremism, the Arab obsession with social media is regarded as a Catch-22
  • Arab experts weigh the pros and cons of young people’s massive dependence on social media

DUBAI: Social media is no longer a mere secondary method of communication. In recent years, it has become a powerful tool that can influence public opinion and educate and influence the youth — facets demonstrated over the last decade by the impact of networks on major political and social events in the Middle East.

In the early years of the Arab Spring, even before Instagram was as widespread as it is today, activists resorted to Facebook and Twitter to amplify their demands.

During the Beirut blast of Aug. 4, 2020, Lebanese at home and abroad resorted to social media to depict the aftermath of destruction and cry to the world for help, as well as to mobilize their community at home and abroad to assist those in need.

One could argue that the violence that took place in Palestine, the Gaza Strip and Israel in May gained more visibility internationally due to social media. The pleas were heard, the violence was seen and even experienced vicariously thanks to widespread sharing on social networks.

During such events, critical and verified information was shared just as much as news that misinformed and relayed falsified data — the double-edged sword of social networks.

Global social media dependency has continued to rise in recent years, particularly during the coronavirus disease pandemic. According to Hootsuite’s July 2020 report on Global Digital Growth, since COVID-19 there has been a 10 percent increase in digital adoption compared with 12 months earlier. Almost 51 percent of the global population currently uses social media, with a rate of 1 million new users per day, according to Simon Kemp. 

As for the Arab world, the 2021 Arab Barometer report on the digital divide in the region confirmed an increase in internet usage for all countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic, which Daniella Raz argues in The Arab World’s Digital Divide has fostered “a digital divide that is affected by the economic status of the country and education level of its citizens.”

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2021, 61 percent of Arab youth use social media as a news source, compared with 34 percent who consume news online and 9 percent through newspapers — making social media the number one source of news for young people.

The MENA region’s youth population is increasingly dependent on social media platforms to access information, particularly video and visually driven social networks, says Fares Akkad, director of media partnerships for news in growth markets across Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East Africa, and Turkey at Meta.




A man wearing a facemask as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 virus rides a bicycle in front of a mural. (AFP/File Photo)

“This is a trend that has raised its bar overtime and has been boosted especially during the pandemic and it is likely to grow at a larger and faster pace,” he tells Arab News.

“We have seen the strength and scale of the digital world, giving a platform and voice to millions who may otherwise not have it, providing an open and accessible venue through which regular people—can connect, access a plethora of information from politics to lifestyle and fashion.”

During COVID-19 there was a noticeable shift in how the Arab public retrieves information, from traditional media to new media, particularly social media. This led many Arab governments to redefine how they use networking platforms as ways to communicate critical information with their populations.

The World Health Organization also launched its official pages on social media platforms, including WhatsApp — an action that acknowledged how, during the pandemic, social media became a primary source through which official information and data was disseminated.

However, the same Arab Youth Survey conducted in 2019 showed how 80 percent of Arab youth use social media as a source of information, compared with online (61 percent) and newspapers (27 percent).

The drop in using social media as a news source — from 80 percent in 2019 and 79 percent in 2020 to 61 percent in 2021 — highlights the rise in hesitation from using these platforms to get information.

“From most of the surveys I have done it is shown clearly that much of the younger generation today is relying on social media for news,” Jad Melki, associate professor and journalism and media studies director at the Institute of Media Research and Training at the Lebanese American University, told Arab News.

“A lot of the youth don’t follow news to start with — they are more interested in entertainment than following news.”

Reluctance to use the platforms stems from negative attributes — as critical information is shared to the public for the greater good, so too are false rumors and misinformation, which have contributed to a rise in fear and panic among among people. This is true particularly among the youth — many of whom do not yet have the experience to fact-check information or turn to other sources.

A case in point is Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US Congress in October, where she stated that Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.” She claimed the company should declare “moral bankruptcy” if it is to move forward.

Haugen also accused the company of sowing divisions and fueling ethnic violence, placing — as she said in Washington — “astronomical profits before people.”




A woman looks at the Instagram page of Saudi influencer Ragda Bakhorji, in Dubai on April 7, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Haugen came forward as the source of a series of revelations in the Wall Street Journal based on internal Facebook (now Meta) documents that revealed the company knew how harmful Instagram was to teenagers’ mental health, and how changes to Facebook’s News Feed feature had also made the platform more divisive among young people.

Haugen’s testimony suggests social media is no longer a secondary method of communication, but a powerful tool that influences public opinion, and there are positives and negatives in its use.

It can educate just as much as it can misinform; bring people and cultures together as well as fuel terrorism and extremism. In many cases, social media is also overtaking mainstream media outlets as the preferred method of choice for how to obtain information.

Akkad affirms that Meta’s house of apps has prioritized making sure “everyone can access credible and accurate information.” He says Meta  removes false claims about vaccines, conspiracy theories, and misinformation that could lead to physical harm.

Currently, Akkad says, Meta removes content that violates its community standards, including more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.

The platform has built a global network of over 80 independent fact-checking partners who rate the accuracy of posts covering more than 60 languages across its apps, with its partners in the Arab region including AFP, Reuters and Fatabyyano. 

It has also displayed warnings on more than 190 million pieces of COVID-related content on Facebook that Meta’s fact-checking partners rated as false, partly false, altered, or missing context. 




Jordanian make-up artist Alaa Bliha, 27, speaks to a journalist in the basement apartment where she lives with her mother and young brother in the capital Amman, on February 2, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

On the positive side, Meta has helped, says Akkad, over 2 billion people find credible COVID-19 information through its COVID-19 Information Center and News Feed pop-ups.

Yet is this enough to diminish the spread of false information?

Arpi Berberian, a social media manager at Create Media Group in Dubai, believes that to protect Arab youth, or any people at that, social media must be regulated.

While it is the primary source for young people in terms of receiving and processing news, “it should also be up to the receiver to fact check and source check what they read online. Especially when it comes to political news,” she told Arab News. 

“It is hard to generalize across Arab countries given the different political systems, educational levels and cultures,” said Melki.

“Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq or what we call Western Asia, has been the most in turmoil outside Yemen and Libya, and part of that turmoil is related to social media habits and obtaining information.”

Melki says that you can see, as the youth get older and the generation shifts, they become more and more interested in politics and following news. Moreover, as Melki points out, traditional news is now circulating largely online and through social media.

“However, a significant majority still watches television — TV remains king across all demographics, particularly when there is a conflict,” he says.

“We did a survey during the Lebanese protests in 2019 and television was the number one way to receive news followed by social media.”




A picture taken on February 4, 2013 in Riyadh shows a Saudi woman using a tablet computer. (AFP/File Photo)

Melki added that the survey found the same regarding Syrian refugees whether inside or outside of camps — television is the number one way to receive the news.

Can social media dependency in the Arab world be reversed and does it need to be?

“I don’t think it can be reversed. It can be improved though,” says Berberian. “There needs to be guidelines imposed by governments on social media outlets, especially on major outlets that have millions of users of all ages.

“It also doesn’t seem to be a good idea to allow some of the major social media platforms to be run by one entity without any balance. Accountability and the safety of its users needs to be at the forefront of social media’s outlets.”

If social media dependency cannot be reduced in the Arab world, and it has become, as analysts state, one, if not the, primary way for the youth and the general populace to receive critical information, then the way forward is for regulation and education. But then who is to regulate and educate and by what terms?

Especially in nations that lack opportunities for youth available elsewhere, social media becomes a window to the world and one with endless social and business possibilities, and this is the double-edged sword of social media: Its pros and cons can almost be equally weighed.


Six Saudis make list of Arab world’s most inspirational businesswomen

Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
Updated 21 May 2022

Six Saudis make list of Arab world’s most inspirational businesswomen

Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
  • Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud among 50 recognized by Arabian Business magazine

LONDON: Six trailblazing Saudis have been named among Arabian Business magazine’s 50 most inspirational businesswomen.

The list, published last week, recognizes women who have used their influence, experience and ambition to make a mark in the region.

All of the Saudi women honored have made a significant contribution to the Kingdom’s evolving landscape, in fields as diverse as architecture and philanthropy.

Among them was Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud, the secretary general and member of the board of trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies, who is regarded as a pioneer of women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia.

Winner of the Achievement in Philanthropy prize at the Arab Woman of the Year Awards in 2017, the princess launched her own publishing company in 2003, which now produces three magazines from Dubai, Cairo and Beirut.

Given that female empowerment in the Kingdom is an integral part of Saudi Vision 2030, it was no surprise to see Mae Al-Mozaini, founder and CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment, on this year’s Arabian Business list.

Al-Mozaini is also the founder of Nusf, a social enterprise dedicated to helping advance the economic and social well-being of women across the Arab world.

Ghada Othman Alrumayan, group chief marketing and communications officer at ROSHN, was another inspiring business leader to make the list.

A national community developer and Public Investment Fund project, ROSHN is responsible for implementing one of the largest residential real estate projects in the Kingdom.

The three other Saudi women to be recognized were Mona Althagafi, Rabaa Abdulaziz Al-Othaim and Rasha Al-Hoshan.

As country director for Saudi Arabia at Serco, Althagafi is responsible for steering the British company’s growth in the Kingdom. With more than 20 years’ experience, she has held various positions within government and the private sector.

Engineer and founder of 4A Architects, Al-Othaim was recognized for her outstanding work in the Kingdom’s health, hospitality, residential and commercial sectors.

Owner and founder of interior design company Rasha Al-Hoshan Est, Al-Hoshan holds degrees in interior design and architecture from some of the world’s top universities. She is also responsible for introducing leading furniture brands like Nada Debs, Fendi Casa and B&B Italia to the Saudi market.

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TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)

HONG KONG/HANOI: TikTok has been conducting tests so users can play games on its video-sharing app in Vietnam, part of plans for a major push into gaming, four people familiar with the matter said.
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app - one of the world's most popular with more than 1 billion monthly active users.
Boasting a tech-savvy population with 70% of its citizens under the age of 35, Vietnam is an attractive market for social media platforms such as TikTok, Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook and Alphabet Inc's YouTube and Google.
TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, also plans to roll out gaming more widely in Southeast Asia, the people said. That move could come as early as the third quarter, said two of them.
The sources declined to be identified as the information has yet to be publicly disclosed.
A TikTok representative said the company has tested bringing HTML5 games, a common form of minigame, to its app through tie-ups with third-party game developers and studios such as Zynga Inc. But it declined to comment on its plans for Vietnam or its broader gaming ambitions.
"We're always looking at ways to enrich our platform and regularly test new features and integrations that bring value to our community," the representative said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters was not able to learn TikTok's plans for rolling out gaming features in other markets. Although TikTok users can watch games being streamed, in most regions they are not able to play games within the TikTok app.
In the United States, only a few games appear to have been launched including Zynga's "Disco Loco 3D", a music and dance challenge game and "Garden of Good", where players grow vegetables to trigger donations by TikTok to the non-profit Feeding America.
According to two sources, TikTok plans to draw primarily on ByteDance's suite of games.
While the company will start with minigames, which tend to have simple game play mechanisms and a short playing time, its gaming ambitions extend beyond that, said one of the people who had direct knowledge of the matter.
TikTok will require a licence to feature games on its platform in Vietnam where authorities restrict games depicting gambling, violence, and sexual content. The process is expected to go smoothly as the games planned are not controversial, the person said.
Vietnam's foreign and communications ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
Users of ByteDance's Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have been able to play games on the platform since 2019.
TikTok's games are likely to carry advertisements from the start, with revenue split between ByteDance and game developers, a separate source said.
TikTok's foray into games mirrors similar efforts made by major tech firms seeking to retain users. Facebook launched Instant Games in 2016 and streaming firm Netflix also recently added games to its platform.
It also marks the latest ByteDance effort to establish itself as a major contender in gaming. It acquired Shanghai-based gaming studio Moonton Technology last year, putting it in direct competition with Tencent, China's biggest gaming firm.
Even without gaming, TikTok has seen advertising revenue surge. Its advertising revenue is likely to triple this year to more than $11 billion, exceeding the combined sales of Twitter Inc and Snap Inc, according to research firm Insider Intelligence.


Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
Palestine’s envoy to Cairo tells memorial service that Abu Akleh’s ‘martyrdom will not be in vain’. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 May 2022

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
  • Palestine’s envoy to Cairo tells memorial service that Abu Akleh’s ‘martyrdom will not be in vain’
  • Egypt foreign ministry condemns ‘assassination’ of media veteran and Al-Jazeera correspondent

CAIRO: The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate will honor the late Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh with a special category in the Egyptian Press Awards bearing her name.

The award will be based on coverage of Palestine.

Syndicate head Diaa Rashwan said that Abu Akleh’s death had caused an emotional outpouring in the Arab world and around the globe.

The veteran Palestinian journalist, who worked for the Qatari Al-Jazeera network, was covering an Israeli army security operation in Jenin camp when she was shot and killed on May 11.

During an Egyptian Journalists Syndicate memorial service for Abu Akleh at the union’s headquarters, Rashwan promised that a section would be added to the site entrance bearing models of press martyrs, including Abu Akleh.

Egyptian journalists observed a minute’s silence for Abu Akleh during the memorial ceremony, which was attended by Palestine’s Ambassador to Egypt, Diab Al-Louh.

Abu Akleh’s martyrdom will not be forgotten in Arab and international history, Al-Louh said.

He told the Egyptian journalists that “Shireen’s blood will not be in vain.”

The envoy declared “May 11, the day of the martyrdom of the Palestinian journalist, is an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian press.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its “condemnation in the strongest terms of the heinous crime of assassination of the late Palestinian journalist and Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.”


MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says
Updated 19 May 2022

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

DUBAI: The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has announced that music streaming charts are in development for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including IFPI’s first ever regional chart.

IFPI published the “Global Music Report” in March and it showed that market revenues in the MENA region grew by 35 percent in 2021, making the region the fastest-growing area in the world. The numbers also portray that the market is mainly made up of streaming which is 95.3 percent of the region’s revenues.

The charts are presently being tested in four countries — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Morocco — alongside a first of its kind regional chart for the MENA region. The outcome is the product of collaborative and direct partnerships between the industry and the largest streaming services in the region, which include Anghami, Spotify, Apple, Deezer, and Youtube.

 IFPI additionally conducted a research study to demonstrate the industry’s interest in the region which showed that UAE residents listen to an average of 22.5 hours of music in a week which is 22 percent higher than the world average. The study explored music engagement of people in the country between the ages of 16-44, also found that 54 percent of people usually listen to a minimum of one Middle Eastern genre.

IFPI Chief Executive, Frances Moore said “both the research and the upcoming charts serve to demonstrate the passion music fans have for music here in the region. We are seeing how the presence and investment of record companies in the area and their work to develop and support local artists is driving positive developments in the music ecosystem.”

Highlighting the excitement of this endeavour, IFPI’s Regional Director for the MENA region, Rawan Al-Dabbas stated “this is an incredibly exciting time for music in the region. The combination of the forthcoming regional charts combined with the industry’s focus and investment in MENA going forward goes to demonstrate the exciting future for music in the region.”

She also mentioned some drawbacks for the region as there is an issue of streaming unlicensed music in the area. “There are challenges, for example unlicensed music is an issue in the region, and IFPI and our member companies are committed to working with governments here in MENA to tackle this and ensure that licensed music has a secure foundation from which to continue its exciting growth story,” she added.


Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal
Updated 18 May 2022

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal
  • Tesla magnate says agreement ‘on hold’ after spat with CEO Parag Agrawal over possible fake accounts
  • Up to 20 percent of platform’s 229m accounts could be spam bots, Musk claims

LONDON: Three top executives quit Twitter on Wednesday as questions continue to swirl around Tesla magnate Elon Musk’s deal to buy the platform.

The departure of Ilya Brown, vice president of product management; Katrina Lane,  vice president of Twitter Service, and Max Schmeiser, head of data science, comes shortly after Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal fired two top executives, Kayvon Beykpour, the company’s general manager, and Bruce Falck, head of revenue.

“We are thankful for all of their hard work and leadership,” a Twitter spokesperson commented following the latest departures. “We continue to be focused on providing the very best experience to the people on Twitter.”

Earlier this month, Musk said that a potential mass resignation of Twitter employees is “fine” following his deal to buy the social media company.

“It’s a free country,” Musk said at the Met Gala. “Certainly if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they will on their own accord go somewhere else. That’s fine.”

The Tesla CEO agreed on a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter in April, but last week said the agreement was “on hold” while he sought clarification about possible fake accounts.

Twitter CEO Agrawal said that internal estimates of spam accounts for the past four quarters were “well under 5 percent,” but has refused to explain how the figure was reached.

“We don’t believe this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share),” he said.

On Tuesday, however, Musk said that Agrawal had “publicly refused to show proof” that less than 5 percent of Twitter’s accounts were fake, and said the deal “cannot move forward” until evidence is provided.

Musk suggested that up to 20 percent of the platform’s 229 million accounts could be spam bots.