Social Media in the Middle East: Twitter’s Expansion and Use by Governments

This is the third 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 Academia.edu.

Twitter announced the launch of “Twitter Lite” in April 2017, the app minimizes data usage and is designed to make Twitter more accessible in developing regions where data plans are expensive.

  • In November, Twitter Lite was rolled out in 24 new countries, including several MENA nations: namely Algeria, Egypt, Israel and Tunisia.
  • The move follows a trend for social networks to offer more data friendly versions of their products. Facebook launched Messenger Lite in five countries — including Tunisia in late 2016, adding 150 further countries including Algeria and Morocco, in April 2017.
Image: Users can utilize the “data saver” setting on the mobile version of Twitter. Source: Twitter Blog
  • In its latest transparency report, Twitter stated it had suspended 935,897 accounts for “promotion of terrorism” between August 2015 and June 30 2017, including 299,649 accounts in the first half of 2017. Less than 1% of these suspensions stemmed from government requests.
    • Turkey submitted 8.5% (554) of all Government issued information requests submitted to the social network in the first half of 2017, related to 902 accounts.
    • The Turkish government also made 31 “emergency disclosure” requests during this period, ahead of UAE (27) but behind Saudi Arabia (47).
    • Nations outside of the region such as the United States (368 requests / 33% of total emergency disclosure requests), Japan (152 / 14%), and the United Kingdom (108 / 10% of total) nonetheless made more requests.
  • Analysis shows that, when it comes to Twipolomacy, in the Gulf region, foreign ministers were most likely to use Twitter to tweet about Syria (12.4% of all tweets), minister visits (10.8%), and the GCC (10%).
    • 65.1% of tweets were in Arabic and 34.9% were in English.

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