New report highlights the latest trends in social media usage across the MENA region

2018" is the seventh annual study on social network use in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) written by Professor Damian Radcliffe, and the first co-written with University of Oregon student Payton Bruni


“State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018” is the seventh annual study on social network use in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) written by Professor Damian Radcliffe, and the first co-written with University of Oregon student Payton Bruni.

A new 30-page white paper from Damian Radcliffe and Payton Bruni at the University of Oregon provides an up-to-date analysis of how people across the Middle East are using social networks.

Their research highlights the increasing prominence of visually led social media in the region - led by YouTube and Snapchat, as well as the ongoing popularity of Facebook’s different products; from the original network (Facebook) through to other Facebook-owned services like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Alongside this, the authors show how concerns about Fake News and the rise of bots are emerging in the region, alongside questions about regulation, the limits of online expression and the role of social media influencers.

10 key findings identified from the past year (2018):

  • Facebook has 164 million active monthly users in the Arab world.[1] This is up from 56 million Facebook users in 2013.
  • Egypt remains the biggest national market for Facebook in the region, with 24 million daily users and nearly 37 million monthly mobile users.[2] 
  • Saudi Arabia (KSA) has the highest annual growth rate of social media users anywhere in the world. Data from We Are Social and Hootsuite, revealed social media users in KSA grew by 32% vs. a worldwide average of 13% (Jan 2017-Jan 2018).[3]
  • Retweets mean the top 2% (0.6% overall) drive c.75% of the Twitter conversation, researchers Marc Owen Jones (Exeter University) and Alexei Abrahams (Princeton) found.[4]
  • There are about 12 million daily users of Snapchat in the GCC. This includes 9 million in Saudi Arabia (out of a population of 32 million) and 1 million in UAE.[5]
  • More than 200 YouTube channels in the region have over one million subscribers. Over 30,000 channels have more than 10,000 subscribers.[6]
  • Egypt’s new social media laws mean that social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers can be monitored, and websites must be licensed by the government.[7]
  • Almost two thirds (63%) of young Arab Youth say they look first to Facebook and Twitter for news; and nearly half of young Arabs (49%) say they get their news on Facebook daily, up from 35% last year.[8]
  • Huda Kattan, was ranked number one on CNN’s list of the Top 10 beauty influencers in the Middle East. Her net worth is estimated at $550 million.[9] She has 32.1 million Instagram followers.
  • An Instagram post from footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who was in Dubai for New Year’s Eve 2018, has had nearly 10 million likes. Ronaldo has 153 million Instagram followers.[10]

Damian Radcliffe said:

“Notable trends from the past year include the continued popularity of Facebook and Facebook-owned products, especially with Arab Youth, as well as increasing challenges to online freedom of expression in many parts of the region.

Saudi Arabia continues to be a social media powerhouse, being one of the biggest national markets for Snapchat and YouTube in the world.

Meanwhile, the rise of social media influencers has met with some pushback; from regulation in UAE, to more tragic and threatening responses in Iraq.

This report explores these developments, as well as emerging questions about the rise of fake news on social media, and the role that social networks are playing in Yemen’s civil war.

What the study shows is that social media in the region continues to be complex, complicated and fast changing. Keeping up with the latest developments is essential for brands, media companies and governments across the region and beyond.”

Damian Radcliffe, is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication; a Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, and an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media, and Culture Studies.

He has been writing about the Middle East since 2012; and his work on the region has been quoted by a wide range of industry experts globally and across the Middle East.

Report co-author Payton Bruni said:

“Social media in the MENA region has followed similar trends from previous years, Facebook use continued to grow with millions of users, but there have been some significant developments in 2018.

Notably, Egypt cracked down on social media with new laws that went into effect this year, placing restrictions on media accounts and blogs with over 5,000 followers.

Social media in Yemen has also seen some big changes due to the war taking place in the country. Unsurprisingly, services such as Twitter were used by Yemenis caught in the conflict as a way to make their voices heard.

2018 was full of big changes that not only affected the business end of media but the millions of everyday users in the MENA region as well.”


Download the report

Via University of Oregon Scholars' Bank, the open access repository for the intellectual work of UO faculty, staff and students:

The study is also available to view, download and embed, via:

  • Scribd:
  • SlideShare:
  • edu:
  • ResearchGate:

About the Authors: Damian Radcliffe and Payton Bruni

Damian Radcliffe is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, a Fellow of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media, and Culture Studies, and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce (RSA). He tweets @damianradcliffe.

An experienced Digital Analyst, Consultant, Journalist and Researcher he worked for Qatar’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) from 2012 until 2014.

Now based in the USA, Damian continues to write and talk regularly about the Middle East.

He has written a monthly column on technology in the Middle East for ZDNet since late 2013; and produced an annual round-up of social media development across the region since 2012.

Damian Radcliffe’s Middle East expertise is evident from the wide range of publications which he has written for, or been quoted in. This includes: Al Bawaba, Al-Majalla Magazine, ArabNet, Arabian Gazette, Arabian Marketer, Arab News, Arab Weekly, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller (Arab Youth Survey), BBC Academy / BBC College of Journalism, The Conversation, Georgetown University, Gulf News, The Huffington Post, Hurriet Daily News (Turkey), IJNet (International Journalists Network),, MediaShift, MBN (Middle East Broadcasting Networks), Northwestern University in Qatar, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, The National (UAE), The Times of Oman, Your Middle East and others.

As a speaker on Middle East matters, he has participated as a trainer, keynote, panelist and conference chair, at events in Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, London and Springfield, Virginia.

Payton Bruni is a student at the University of Oregon, School of Journalism and Communication. He currently works as a freelance journalist, Content Developer for Gather, an online resource for engaged journalists hosted by the Agora Journalism Center. In addition, he is a member of the UNESCO Crossings Institute for Conflict-Sensitive Reporting and Intercultural Dialogue at the University of Oregon.

With a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Arabic studies, Payton aims to work in the Middle East as a journalist. He took a step toward achieving this goal by furthering his knowledge of the Arabic language through a University of Oregon Global Education Oregon study abroad program based in Amman, Jordan. With funding from the Gilman International Scholarship and the Islamic Studies Initiative scholarship, Payton studied at the Qasid Arabic Institute in an intensive Arabic language program. He completed what the University of Oregon classifies as a year’s worth of Arabic in nine weeks, and operated as a freelance journalist on behalf of the Gilman scholarship program.

On top of his work as a reporter and writer, Payton has a background in multimedia storytelling. He works as a photojournalist for Ethos Magazine, an independent student publisher, and has worked with KVAL CBS 13 news as a freelance sports photographer. Payton’s photos have been published by the University of Oregon GEO program, KVAL news, KEZI news and the Newberry Eagle newspaper based out of La Pine, Oregon. Samples of his work can be viewed at

Media enquiries
For media enquiries, please contact:
Damian Radcliffe,
Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism,
University of Oregon
Tel:      (01) 541-346-7643

© Press Release 2019

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