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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.

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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.

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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.

Censorship

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.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Qatari attitudes

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.

Thoughts?

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Ziad Hunesh/Flickr

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A new trending hashtag about Qatar on Twitter has sparked an online debate, with many participants expressing their love and support for the country, while others attacked the nation and its foreign policy.

The Arabic hashtag قول_كلمة_لقطر#, or “say a word for Qatar,” launched yesterday, and includes hundreds of tweets from Qataris, Doha-based expats and people living abroad.

It remains unclear how the hashtag got started. But speaking to Doha News, one of the participants, Abdel Latif Al Jassem, said many people who commented wished to express their gratitude for Qatar.

https://twitter.com/G_3360/status/618675666427363328

Translation: By Allah, I love you Qatar, we praise you nation.

Translation: I visited it a few times and found only civilization, development and respect for their guests (tourists)…Thank you Qatar.

Others said they believed the hashtag was created to give people from around the region a chance to speak their minds about the Gulf country.

Translation: We are not (your) slaves.

Other comments were more light-hearted, poking fun at the country’s small size and population of two million people, which includes 755 districts and eight municipalities, each with its own distinct name.

Translation: Did you know that the two litter bottle of Pepsi is banned in Qatar, because if it foams over, (the people of Qatar) will drown.

Translation: Qatar is the easiest country to count its population, through this device (referring to the abacus in the picture).

Foreign policy

Many of the tweets focused on Qatar’s foreign policy, specifically toward Arab countries such as Egypt.

Qatar was against the military ousting of former Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood-backed Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

This has caused tension between the country and its GCC neighbors, as well as Egypt, who previously accused Qatar of supporting the Brotherhood – which many countries view as a threat to their own governments.

https://twitter.com/FAFBM/status/618686919791112192

Translation: Distance yourself from the deviated ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. What’s your business with the Brotherhood’s ideology?

But not everyone lambasted Qatar’s foreign efforts:

Translation: $50 million to support the Rohingya (Muslims) in Indonesia. Reconstruction of Gaza after the Zionist occupation. Supporting the Syrian Revolution…Thank you Qatar.

Translation: Qatar is a country we love and we love its people; if there are political differences, we won’t allow them to cause a rift between us as the people.

What would you like to say for Qatar? Thoughts?

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Technology experts in Qatar and India have developed a new online application that rates the credibility of Twitter feeds, in a bid to stop people from spreading rumors online – particularly during major incidents.

TweetCred has been thought up by developers at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) – a private, not-for-profit national research organization founded by Qatar Foundation – and Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi, which has been collaborating on the project for the past six months.

TweetCred

The aim to to give people a way of sorting through their Twitter feed quickly, to help them identify credible information sources in times of national incidents and emergencies such as riots, public uprisings and earthquakes.

The new app, which can be downloaded for free as a Google Chrome extension, comes as Twitter becomes one of the main sources of breaking news and information for people in a crisis.

In Doha, for example, some 90 percent of residents rely on the internet for news, according to a 2013 Northwestern University in Qatar study on media usage in the MENA region. And some 43 percent of people surveyed in the country use Twitter.

Tweet score

TweetCred works by giving each tweet a rating, from one to seven, according to how credible the user posting the message is believed to be. The greater the number of blue dots, the more credible the tweet.

The system uses algorithms that take into account a number of factors, including whether any pictures or video are included in the tweet, as well as the reputation and popularity of the user who posted the message.

CNN Tweetcred

In his technology blog iRevolution, QCRI’s Director of Social Innovation, Dr. Patrick Meier, explained that the app puts to a practical use academic information his colleagues at QCRI and IIITD gained during previous research.

That information includes an automatic analysis of 35 million tweets about a dozen major events such as the London riots of 2011, the Chilean earthquake of 2010 and the uprising in Libya.

Speaking to Doha News about the app’s purpose, Meier said:

“TweetCred is more important for the behavior change that may result than the actual technology itself. By simply adding a credibility score, we hope that Twitter users will think more critically about what they read and retweet on Twitter.

We want a more informed and critical digital public sphere.”

He added that such a system is particularly useful in emergency situations, where it is crucial for people to find out information quickly and accurately.

He said the hope is to also help the Twitter community at large to become more self-regulating, allowing them to easily see who is a reliable source and who is not.

“Studies have shown that we’re less likely to spread rumors on Twitter if false tweets are publicly identified by Twitter users as being non-credible,” he said.

Additionally, public exposure increases the number of Twitter users who seek to stop the spread of rumor-related tweets by 150 percent, Meier added.

The app is still in an experimental stage, and the developers describe it as a “hybrid,” combining big data with personal input.

To help refine it, they are asking users to click on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon to agree with the rating given to a particular tweet. If they disagree, users are asked to change the credibility rating.

As the system is powered by “machine learning,” it becomes smarter as more people interact with the system and teach it how to accurately rate tweets.

Thoughts?