Qatar residents are turning away from traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and flocking to newer apps like Instagram and Snapchat, a new study by Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) has found.
The findings are part of a regional trend in which users are opting to leave platforms that broadcast posts to wide audiences in favor of direct-messaging services – namely WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.
The survey, which was conducted in partnership with the Doha Film Institute, found that the number of nationals and expats in Qatar who said they used Twitter fell from 79 percent in 2014 to 44 percent this year.
Facebook usage dropped from 69 percent to 52 percent during the same time period.
Only one in five Qataris said they use Facebook – the lowest rate researchers found in the six countries included in their survey.
The report’s authors said increased concerns about online privacy are one factor behind the trend. In Qatar, 58 percent of respondents said privacy concerns have changed the way they use social media.
“That can include concerns about companies such as Facebook and Twitter themselves,” Justin Martin, an assistant professor NU-Q and one of the report’s authors, told Doha News. “These are massive multimedia corporations that have a lot of information about (their users).”
However, use of Instagram – which centers around the public posting of photos and videos and is owned by Facebook – jumped last year in Qatar.
Some 41 percent of nationals and expats reported using the platform, up from 22 percent in 2014 when the survey was last conducted.
Martin noted that Instagram content is generally less political as well as less personal than the information that’s posted on other platforms such as Twitter, which may alleviate privacy concerns among some users.
In socially conservative Qatar, sharing personal details via social media – particularly for women – is considered inappropriate by some.
“People post pictures, but not often of themselves,” he said.
Martin also noted that the nature of social media means that more popular platforms will attract even more users, which is illustrated in the rapid rise of video-centric Snapchat.
“People flock to where their friends are,” he said.
The wide-ranging Media Use in the Middle East study examined attitudes toward various forms of media, as well as censorship, regulation and online surveillance in Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt.
In Qatar, researchers interviewed 504 nationals and 496 expats in January.
Qataris and foreign residents living in the Gulf state expressed different views on several issues, including freedom of speech.
For example, expats are more likely than Qataris to believe that it’s acceptable to express their ideas on the internet even if they are unpopular.
Some 71 percent of Western expats here agreed, compared to 56 percent of nationals. Arab and Asian expats were roughly in the middle.
Nationals are also more likely to believe that it’s the responsibility of government, rather than individuals, to block or keep objectionable content online at bay.
Opinions on whether Qatar is headed on the right track also vary dramatically by nationality.
While 92 percent of Qataris believe their country is progressing in the correct direction, only 49 percent of Arab expats feel the same way.
Some 76 percent of Western expats believe Qatar is advancing in the right direction, as do 54 percent of Asian expats.
The report included a chapter that focuses on the attitudes on Qataris, which differs dramatically in some cases from those of nationals in other Gulf countries.
For example, while Qataris have the lowest rate of Facebook usage at 22 percent, they also have the highest Snapchat penetration rate across all surveyed countries, at 55 percent.
Other findings include:
- Qatari internet users are much less likely than other nationals to say privacy concerns led them to change how they use social media;
- Qataris are also the least likely nationals surveyed to say they share online content;
- Fewer Qataris than other nationals see conflict between cultural preservation and embracing modernity; and
- Qataris travel outside their country far more than nationals of other Arab countries, including Emiratis and Saudis.