The use of Facebook soared by almost 80% across the Arab world in 2010, with younger users spearheading growth.
Article first published as Facebook Use Soars in Arab World on Technorati.
The use of social networking tools is soaring in the Arab world, with Facebook notching up more than 21 million users by January 2011.
Young people aged between 15 and 29, who comprise around one-third of the total Arab population, lead the take-up of social media.
The figures come from the inaugural edition of the Arab Social Media Report, published on 7 February by the Dubai School of Government in the UAE, a research and teaching institution focusing on public policy in the Arab world.
Using Facebook, "arguably one of the most popular social networking sites in the world", as a gauge of the popularity of social media in the region, the report analyzed data on users of the social networking giant across the Middle East, including the 22 Arab countries as well as Iran and Israel.
It found that in 2010 the total number of Facebook users in the Arab world surged ahead at a massive annual rate of 78%, from 11.9 million in January 2010 to 21.3 million by the end of the year, with 75% of users belonging to the 15- to 29-year-old demographic and driving its growth.
Breaking down Facebook users by gender, there is an average 2:1 ratio of male to female users in the Arab region, compared with almost 1:1 globally.
Egypt, with around 4.7 million Facebook users, accounts for about 22% of total Arab users. The UAE has the highest penetration rate in the Arab world, with more than 45% of the population having Facebook accounts.
In a few Arab countries, such as Iraq and Djibouti, more people use Facebook than the Internet, connecting to the former via mobile phones.
The report also compares penetration rates for the Internet and Facebook for each Arab country.
It concludes that a high internet penetration rate (such as the UAE with 75 per cent, or Bahrain with 53 per cent) does not necessarily indicate a similarly high Facebook penetration rate. Saudi Arabia has an internet penetration rate of 38 per cent and a Facebook rate of 12.24 per cent, while Oman’s figures are 51.5 and 7.55 per cent respectively.
"This may indicate social and cultural barriers to using the site, which shares personal information with others," the Dubai newspaper Gulf News noted.
The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated the power of platforms like Facebook and Twitter in organizing social and civil movements in the Middle East and North Africa.
Fadi Salem, Fellow and Director of the Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government, said: "It is no coincidence that Tunisia witnessed an 8% sudden surge in the number of Facebook users during the first two weeks of January 2011, coupled with a shift in the usage trend from merely social in nature into primarily political."