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A ‘key trend’ in the latest Arab youth survey is a ‘decline in news consumption’

DUBAI: Dubai-based public relations agency ASDA’A BCW has released the results of its 14th annual survey of Arab youth, described as the largest independent survey of its kind.

This year’s findings are grouped under six themes: Identity, Livelihoods, Politics, Global Citizenship, Lifestyle and Aspirations.

Having grown up in the age of the internet, it is perhaps unsurprising that young Arabs are avid users of social media and other online services. When it comes to the most popular social media platforms in the region, WhatsApp came out on top, with 82% of respondents saying they use it daily, followed by Facebook (72%), Instagram (61%), YouTube ( 53%), TikTok (50%), Snapchat (46%), Twitter (33%) and LinkedIn (12%).

WhatsApp is even more popular in Saudi Arabia than in the wider region, with 98% of respondents in the country using it daily. Snapchat was the second most popular platform in the Kingdom, with 84% of people using it daily, followed by YouTube (83%), Twitter (73%), TikTok (60%) and Facebook (55%).

Commenting on the potentially controversial inclusion in the survey of WhatsApp, traditionally considered an instant messaging service, as a social media platform, Sunil John, Founder of ASDA’A BCW and BCW President for the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News: “WhatsApp has evolved as a robust social networking platform – for families and businesses – and is often the first source of information for many. It plays also an important role in people’s lives as a social networking tool.

Although TikTok ranks relatively low in terms of daily usage in the Middle East, usage has more than doubled in the past two years, from 21% in 2020 to 50% this year. In Saudi Arabia, TikTok usage nearly tripled over the same period, from 24% in 2020 to 60%.

Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter saw the largest declines in regional usage over this period: Facebook fell from 85% to 72% and Twitter from 42% to 33%.

In the Kingdom, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter have grown in popularity over the past two years, but daily Facebook usage has declined from 82% to 55%.

“One of the major trends we’ve noticed is the decline in news consumption, which peaked during the pandemic when people were largely confined to their homes,” John said.

The trend was evident across all channels, although social media remained the main source of information, for 65% of respondents. This is a slight increase from last year’s 61%, but well below the figures for 2019 and 2020, where 79 and 80% respectively.

The second most popular news source was television, with 45%, followed by online news portals (32%) and print media (9%).

Social media was also the most popular source of information in Saudi Arabia, with 43% of people relying on it, followed by television (27%) and news websites (23%).

Young people indeed seem to be consuming less news than two years ago, when they were confined to their homes during the pandemic shutdowns, John said, and the decline is not exclusive to social media.

“The decline appears to be part of a general downward trend in news consumption, regardless of channel or platform,” he added.

“2020 was arguably an outlier in terms of news consumption habits. A decline was to be expected as people returned to normal life.

“It is also true that young people consume media for different things these days, such as entertainment and shopping. We are also seeing the emergence of new types of content, such as podcasts, which are often hybrid in nature and more difficult to categorize. »

It’s also possible that “young people are ‘disconnecting’ from the sheer volume of news they’re getting these days, most of which is negative,” John added.

Despite the popularity of social media as a source of information, social media influencers and the platforms themselves are among the least trusted sources of information, at only 54% and 66% respectively. Newscasts have the highest level of trust, with 84% of people trusting, followed by print and online news portals, both at 71%.

In Saudi Arabia, however, social media, television and online news portals all garnered similar levels of trust.

There could be various reasons for the high level of trust in television news across the Arab world, according to John, “such as the depth and variety of commentary offered by television, and the larger budgets for news production that TV channels normally order”.

Additionally, “TV growth is also, of course, technological, with increasing internet penetration in the region allowing more people to access streaming services on their mobile phones.”

Although online news portals and print media are among the least used news sources, the survey found high levels of trust in both.

“Traditional newspapers are read much less than they used to be in their print form, but they are nonetheless respected for their journalistic pedigree and as news brands,” John said.

“This may explain why online news sites, at least online versions of what used to be print newspapers, enjoy a high level of trust.”

The emergence of “successful news brands specifically designed for the web and social media, and catering to younger audiences, such as NowThis, Vice and Gawker”, could be another reason for the trust placed in the sites. online news, he added.

On the other hand, “social media platforms are not news platforms by nature,” John said.

“First and foremost, they were designed to share content and network. Thus, they are good at spreading the news, but not necessarily at delivering news that people trust. However, the rise of trusted influencers on social media could change that.

The drop in news consumption could also be the result of young Arabs using the internet primarily for other reasons.

“Young Arabs are increasingly consuming media for different things: entertainment, for example, and shopping,” John said.

In this year’s survey, 89% of respondents said they shop online several times a month, up from just 50% in 2018.

Similarly, the number of young adults in Saudi Arabia shopping online has nearly doubled in the past five years. In 2018, 58% of people said they purchased products and services through social media websites and apps at least once a month; this year, virtually all respondents said they shopped online.

“This year’s research found a marked increase in the number of young adults reporting using social media websites and apps to purchase goods and services at least a few times a month,” John said. “And this trend is not just limited to the wealthier countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”

The 14th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey is based on face-to-face interviews and surveys of men and women aged 18-24 in 50 cities across 17 Arab states. Visit arabyouthsurvey.com for the full results.