The societal and political transformations sweeping the Arab region have empowered large segments of the region's population. Many stereotypes have been shattered, with Arab youth, “netizens” and women becoming the main drivers for regional change. Arab women in particular have become more engaged in political and civic actions, playing a critical leading role in the rapid and historic changes that have swept the region. Meanwhile, the debate about the role of social media in these transformations has reached policy making circles at the regional and global levels.
Throughout 2011, social media usage continued to grow significantly across the Arab world, coupled with major shifts in usage trends. From merely being used as a tool for social networking and entertainment, social media now infiltrates almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs, affecting the way they interact socially, do business, interact with government, or engage in civil society movements. By the end of 2011, Arab users' utilization of social media had evolved to encompass civic engagement, political participation, entrepreneurial efforts, and social change. With a critical mass of Arab users in many countries, governments have also begun to recognize social media's potential to develop more transparent, participatory and inclusive governance models. But while creative and socially-beneficial uses of social media abound, they are accompanied by new-found concerns surrounding issues of security, privacy, freedom of expression, and the disruptive uses of social media on foreign policy making and diplomacy.
The Arab region has recently experienced exponential growth in the use of social media. Previous issues of the Arab Social Media Report have explored this growth, which has been fueled in part by the use of networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the movements of the so-called “Arab spring.” The third edition of the report builds on these timely themes, which specifically explored the exponential growth of social media use in the Arab world, and the role of social networking tools in the civil movements in the Arab region. Given the heightened participation of Arab women in these movements over the past months, despite their diminished use of social media as compared to the world average, this issue of the report will address three main questions: