As 2014 comes to a close, social media in the Arab world continues to grow exponentially, with over 85 million users in the region. This growth has been more than merely quantitative, as research conducted by the Governance and Innovation Program at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government over the past four years has shown. Social media usage in the region has evolved and transcended its once-traditional entertainment and social uses to play a pivotal role in civic engagement, youth and women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and societal change.
Social media has also changed information hierarchies and the power balance of knowledge exchange, creating two-way channels of discourse and engaging difficult-to-reach segments of society. It has the potential to empower marginalized voices to create, document and disseminate their version of current events.
Beyond being used by people in their individual and collective endeavors, social media is also being used by businesses and incorporated into government institutions to engage with citizens. In this regard, the UAE is at the forefront of Arab countries when it comes to the utilization of technologies such as social media in the provision of public services, whether for citizen engagement, innovation, or intergovernmental collaboration. An example of this is the recent ‘UAE Brainstorming Session’ via Twitter, initiated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to crowdsource ideas from the public around healthcare and education issues in the UAE.
The UAE also tops the regional rankings across several social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, consistently having one of the highest user penetration users in the region over the past four years.
As such, this study will examine social media usage and trends in the UAE this past year, within the larger scope of social media usage in the region and its impact on Arab government, society and everyday life. It is a collaborative effort between the Dubai Press Club and the Governance and Innovation Program at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government and builds on the foundation of research conducted by the Program on the potential of social media to drive socio-economic growth and development in the Arab region.
The study will comprise three parts: the first presenting the latest social media usage statistics in the region, with a focus on the UAE’s continued and exponential growth in the past few years; the second analyzing the results of a UAE-wide survey on the potential of social media to engage citizens in the design and delivery of public services; and the third documenting the success story that is the UAE Twitter ‘brainstorming session’ on public healthcare and education issues.