Social Media in the Middle East: The Continued Rise of Messaging Apps

This is the first in a series of ten short extracts from my sixth annual round-up of social media trends from the Middle East and North Africa (written with University of Oregon student Amanda Lam). Social Media in the Middle East: The Story of 2017 is available for download from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank and on Scribd, SlideShare and

  • WhatsApp is once again the most popular social channel, based on usage, among Arab Nationals, research by Northwestern University in Qatar found.

    • The reach of the popular messaging application (67%) was just ahead of Facebook (63%) and YouTube (50%). 
  • Usage of the group messaging functionality afforded by WhatsApp has grown substantially in recent years. “Three-quarters of nationals belong to a friend or family DM group and one-half belong to a DM group with people sharing similar interests and hobbies,” Northwestern University in Qatar has noted. 

Image: Percentage of Direct Messaging with groups vs. Individuals. Source: Northwestern University in Qatar.
  • Despite its popularity, not all of WhatsApp’s functions are accessible in the region.

    • WhatsApp’s video-calling service was introduced in Nov. 2016, but users in UAE cannot access the service due to regulatory issues. WhatsApp and Snapchat calls have historically been blocked in UAE, along with FaceTime.

    • In June 2017, UAE residents briefly enjoyed WhatsApp video and voice calls after restrictions were unblocked. The government blocked it again within a few hours.

  • In March, Mara Social Media, a social media firm based in Dubai, acquired the global mobile calling and messaging app Nimbuzz. The app currently has 200 million users across the Middle East and India.10 Mara Social Media expects use of messaging apps to overtake social media apps globally within the next two years.

Image: Nimbuzz app features. Source: Google Play

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