The huge upheavals which toppled tyrants across the Middle East are just the beginning, in terms of social media’s ability to facilitate social change in the region, according to the Arab Social Media Report released by the Dubai School of Government. For one thing, relatively few Arabs who use social media fear government repression if they air their views online; social media also has the potential to catalyze further social change by empowering Arab women, according to the DSG report, which is based on a survey of 469 people ages 15-40 in 22 Arab countries.
Only a quarter of social media users in the Middle East say they are afraid they could be “held accountable by authorities” for expressing political views online -- a fairly small proportion, considering the region’s troubled politics and history of authoritarian repression.
Sixty percent of the respondents to the DSG survey were women, indicating the high degree of interest in social media among a group that is often marginalized and oppressed in these conservative societies. However just one-third of Facebook members in the region are women -- despite the fact that its membership in Arab countries has almost doubled in the last year, from 20 million to 36 million. Lebanon had the highest proportion of women on Facebook, making up 46% of active Facebook users.
Asked why usage rates remain lower among women, one quarter of male and female respondents cited social and cultural pressure, as well as lack of technological literacy among women, privacy and security issues, and the lack of relevant content for women.
But most respondents of both genders also said they thought social media could empower women. 83% of women and 81% of men said social media could help Arab women take part in civil society, while 76% and 70%, respectively, said it could help them protect and improve their rights. 62% of women and 65% of men think social media could help women obtain political equality, while 66% and 53%, respectively, said social media could help Arab women find better economic opportunities.