Is Facebook the third most popular news source in the Middle East? It depends on where you are.

Internet Monitor 2013-08-26

How do Internet users use Facebook to gather news and information? It varies widely depending on the country.

After Northwestern University published an eight-nation study surveying media use in the Middle East, publications grabbed hold of the headline that Facebook is the third most popular site for news in the Middle East. That’s not wrong, but the story is more nuanced than that. News gathering habits vary widely in different countries in the region and around the world.

For instance, although Facebook was mentioned as a top three media outlet by 52% of survey respondents in Tunisia, the social network didn’t see steady levels of popularity across the region. In many of the countries surveyed, Facebook didn’t rank in the top three outlets at all.

While Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Facebook were the most popular outlets on average in the region overall, below is a breakdown of what usage of each outlet looked like broken down by individual country.

Top news outlets by country

Top news outlets by country, according to Northwestern study. Image credit: Media Use in the Middle East

The situation is equally complex for how citizens in the surveyed region use media sources more generally. In each country, television remained the most dominant source for information on news and current events by far—an average of 83% of respondents across the region identified TV as a top news source. When respondents were asked if they used the Internet to gather this type of information, the answers were much more scattered, with a low of 22% of respondents using the Internet for news in Egypt versus a high of 85% in Bahrain. In a different survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 78% of respondents said they use the Internet to get news.

Do news consumers seek out international coverage? That varies widely across different nations, too. Survey takers in Egypt were least likely to follow international news, with just 17% of respondents listing international news as a news topic they follow closely or very closely. However, nearby Saudi Arabia took the regional lead in terms of international news consumption, with 63% of respondents following international news closely or very closely.

Despite various communities lamenting the loss of international news media coverage in American news outlets, 56% of US-based news consumers surveyed by Pew still said they closely follow international news most of the time. In both the US and the Middle East, survey takers responded that they follow local and national news more frequently than international news.