Despite a general rise in social media use in the Middle East and a consistent increase of Internet penetration across every country in that region, Facebook’s popularity now appears to be on the decline, according to a seven-nation survey of Middle Eastern media use conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar.
With a penetration of nearly 75 percent of Internet users, Facebook has long-been the dominant social media platform in the MENA region, but that appears to be changing. While Internet penetration has risen overall in every country in the region, Facebook use among Internet users has declined across nearly all countries during the same time period, dropping 10 percentage points since 2015 and 20 percentage points since 2013.
In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Facebook use plummeted by more than 20 percentage points in the last two years alone, to 22 percent in Qatar (compared to 43 percent in 2015) and 55 percent in Saudi Arabia (compared to 76 percent in 2015).
In the United Arab Emirates, Facebook use among all nationals declined to about 70 percent, versus 83 percent in 2015 and 84 percent in 2013.
MENA Internet users' use of various social media platforms, 2017.
One of the few exceptions appears to be Lebanon, where Facebook not only remains the dominant platform but has actually gained users, at 77 percent this year compared to 64 percent two years ago and 53 percent in 2013.
Sharing a fate similar to Facebook, Twitter’s penetration in the MENA region also appears to have fallen, declining from 47 percent to 24 percent in use overall, with the micro-blogging site's popularity now particularly low in Lebanon (13 percent), Jordan (9 percent) and Tunisia (8 percent).
On the other hand, smartphone instant messaging service WhatsApp has exploded in the Middle East, with about two-thirds of all nationals citing its use and now accounting for nearly 80 percent penetration this year among the region's Internet users, edging out Facebook for the first time and now topping the list of the region's preferred social media platform.
Photo-sharing service Instagram has also surged, from 6 percent to 39 percent penetration among Internet users in the region. Use of messaging app Snapchat has also grown, now used by about 28 percent of the population.
According to the survey, younger nationals (18-24 year-olds and 25-34 year-olds) tend to favor Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. While WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube tend to skew younger as well, older demographics (45+) are more inclined to cite these platforms as their mediums of choice.
Northwestern University in Qatar’s fifth annual survey was conducted in collaboration with Harris Poll and surveyed 7,196 residents in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt between February and March.