Foreign Policy Blogs

More Facebook Users in the Arab World Than Newspaper Readers

The research by Spot On Public Relations, a Dubai-based agency, says there are more than 15 million subscribers to the social network.  The total number of newspaper copies in Arabic, English and French is just under 14 million.  The findings seem to confirm the increasing popularity of the social interaction platforms in the region.  The figures show that such platforms are beginning to define how Arabs discover and share information.  In Egypt alone, there are 3.5 million users, which is way beyond the circulation of any of the biggest dailies.  The findings should come as no surprise. The majority of the region’s more than 300 million people is young, and internet use is on the rise.  In societies where political freedoms are severely limited, many have also resorted to Facebook as an alternative to the public sphere.  But the survey does not provide a detailed breakdown of how it is used in Arab countries – for example how much of it is for chatting and making friends and how much is for political and social campaigning. [Excerpts from BBC]

It was suggested that this sort of data could contain valuable information for advertisers who want to reach the largest possible number of people.  However, thinking about this from a U.S. foreign policy perspective, I see this as an incredible opportunity to re-shape public diplomacy outreach.  What better a way to bridge the culture gap and extend a more positive view of American society and culture?  The U.S. should move toward more joint social media ventures with Middle East NGOs, regional religious organizations, and local women’s groups by creating Facebook groups, groups, etc.

Although I’ve always had great interest in the value of this type of outreach, the unwavering necessity for this was cemented in my mind after being privy to briefly meeting and then hearing Karen Hughes (“the most powerful woman ever to serve in the White House”) speak at a conference on strategic communication in Washington DC.  She emphasized the need for more intercultural citizen dialogue through new and innovative means.  These partnerships through social media dialogue can not only isolate extremism, but can offer a vision of hope for a more fair depiction of both American and Middle Eastern online societies.