Facebook isn’t just a website to share videos of kittens, it’s fast becoming our window to the world.
By Osama Al Sharif
Social media’s sway on public opinion continues to increase in Jordan at a time when the influence of traditional media, specifically print, is retreating. The most widespread digital platform in the Kingdom is Facebook, followed by Twitter. Recent statistics, provided by Khaled ElAhmad, social media consultant and trainer, suggest that Facebook users in Jordan are around 3.4 million, with a penetration rate of almost 48 percent of the population. No other media, old or new, can boast such figures.
ElAhmad says that Jordan is ranked five in the Arab world in terms of the number of Facebook users-to-population after the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon. The Dubai government’s Arab Social Media Report 2015 said Facebook was favored by 39 percent of respondents. It added that two out of every five users in the Arab world said Facebook was their favorite social media platform. The report also revealed that Facebook and WhatsApp are the most popular social networking sites and apps in the region. Twitter and Instagram came second with the report highlighting that different countries record varying usage patterns of the social networking sites.
As for Twitter use in Jordan, ElAhmad said the number of active users in February was about 250,000. According to the Arab Social Media Report, preference for Twitter is the lowest in the region at only 4 percent, with the highest preference in Saudi Arabia and the UAE at 12 percent and 8 percent respectively, while it is lowest at Egypt at 1 percent.
As the number of Facebook users in Jordan grows, so does interest by companies that have pages on the social platform. According to socialbakers.com, a site that produces regional social marketing reports, the top five ‘liked’ industries on Facebook are telecoms, electronics, e-commerce, automotive, and beverages. In terms of specific brands, the top five are Zain, Orange, Samsung Mobile Levant, Samsung Levant, and MarkaVIP.
The top five Facebook media brands, relative to fans, are Ro’ya TV, MBC1, Garaa News, Al Jazeera Channel, and Al Arabiya. The pages with the largest audience, by number of fans, are Saraha News (over 7.5 million fans), Mohammad al Wakeel (over 4.8 million fans), and Queen Rania (over 4.2 million fans). Fast growing pages include Ro’ya TV and Kharabeesh.
With about half the population on Facebook, the increasing influence of this site on public opinion is obvious. In February, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Zaki Bani Rushaid, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for criticizing a Gulf country in a Facebook post on his personal page. This incident blurred the line between what can be considered as a personal opinion and one that is deemed an offence under the law.
For Jordanians Facebook is much more than a social media platform. It’s quickly becoming a site where people express opinion on political, social, cultural, religious, and economic issues. This poses a challenge for the government as it tries to judge personal opinions that cross the legal boundaries. Obviously, there are no clear reference points. It’s a new territory for the state, which has tried to regulate and control news websites through registration.
With the increase in the use of smartphones, the number of Facebook users and interaction should increase further. In my opinion more and more people are getting most of their news and information from Facebook, spending more time, a universal average of 18 minutes daily, on social media than any other site. It’s worth mentioning that the Arab Social Media report said that while WhatsApp is the social tool most favored in the Arab world at 41 percent, users in Jordan least preferred it at only 18 percent.
There’s no clear answer as to why Jordanians prefer Facebook to Twitter, compared to users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but it could be that users shy away from word limitations and prefer to expound their opinions. Also the fact that we have hundreds of news websites that allow readers to comment freely may account for Twitter’s relatively small footprint in Jordan. ElAhmad said smartphone penetration among young people is more popular in GCC countries than Jordan so they tend to use more mobile oriented apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. He added that Twitter can be considered an evolution of Internet forums and Blackberry Messenger.
For an upcoming Media and Society column, I plan to examine Facebook’s huge impact on Jordan’s advertising industry. As the number of users of this game-changing website grows, it only makes sense that advertisers will rush to try to reach them.