Expert Commentary

Global social networking: Arab publics most likely to express political views online

2012 survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitude Project on the use of social networking and mobile phones in 21 countries around the world.

Social networking services and mobile phones were born decades apart, but in the age of the smartphone, the two seem made for each other. Some two-thirds of online adults in the United States say they use social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But such technology isn’t restricted to the developed world — far from it. Social media and smartphones were highly visible during the Arab Spring, even if the significance of their role has been open to debate. As the cost of mobile phones has dropped and the technology has improved — allowing more mobile phones to become Internet-enabled — social networking site use continues to spread.

A 2012 report from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, “Social Networking Popular Across Globe: Arab Publics Most Likely to Express Political Views Online,” examines how such online services are used in 21 countries around the world. Given the ongoing series of revolutions in the Arab world, Northern African nations get a particularly close look in the report.

The report’s findings include:

  • Significant majorities of populations in countries around the world own a cell phone, including 92% in the United Kingdom, 89% in Germany and 86% in the United States and France. Even developing countries such as Mexico (63%), India (56%) and Pakistan (52%) show significant adoption rates.
  • Social networking sites are also widely visited. In 19 of the 21 countries surveyed, 30% or more of those polled used sites such as Facebook. Countries with rates around 50% included Britain (52%), the United States (50%), Russia (50%), Spain (49%), and the Czech Republic (49%). “Only in India (6%) and Pakistan (4%) is the percentage of adults who use social networking sites in single digits.”
  • In 12 out of the 21 countries, 60% of smartphone users access social networks with their phones. “The practice is particularly common in Egypt (79%), Mexico (74%) and Greece (72%). The Japanese (45%) and Chinese (31%), on the other hand, are the least likely to use their phones for connecting with social networks.”
  • Once residents of low- and middle-income nations are online, they generally become involved in social networks at high rates. “For instance, the vast majority of internet users in Mexico, Brazil, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and India are using social networking sites.”
  • Two-thirds of those who use social-networking services use them to share opinions about music  and movies as well as community issues, sports and politics.
  • In the Arab world, favored subjects include politics, community issues and religion. “In Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions. Similarly, in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan, more than seven-in-ten share views on community issues, compared with a crossnational median of just 46%.”
  • The gap in usage between those younger than 30 and 50 and older was more than 50 points in 17 of 21 countries. “This gap is particularly pronounced in Italy, Poland, Britain and Greece, where at least 70 percentage points separate those in the younger group from those in the older group.”
  • Education level also plays an important role, “with double-digit differences between those with a college degree and those without a college degree in 15 of 18 countries.”

Keywords: consumer affairs, Facebook, Twitter, mobile tech

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