The 7th Arab Social Media Report: Social Media and the Internet of Things – Towards Data-Driven Policymaking in the Arab World: Potential, Limits and Concerns

The influence of social media has continued to grow globally over the past decade. During 2016 social media played a highly influential role in what has been described as a “post truth” era in policymaking, diplomacy and political communication. For example, social media “bots” arguably played a key role in influencing public opinion globally, whether on the political or public policy levels. Such practices rely heavily on big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, not just in gathering and crunching public views and sentiments, but more so in pro-actively influencing public opinions, decisions and behaviors. Some of these government practices undermined traditional information mediums, triggered foreign policy crises, impacted political communication and disrupted established policy formulation cycles.

On the other hand, the digital revolution has expanded the horizon of possibilities for development, governance and policymaking. A new disruptive transformation is characterized by a fusion of inter-connected technologies where the digital, physical and biological worlds converge. This inter-connectivity is generating-and consuming—an enormous amount of data that is changing the ways policies are conducted, decisions are taken and day-to-day operations are carried out. Within this context, ‘big data’ applications are increasingly becoming critical elements of policymaking. Coupled with the rise of a critical mass of social media users globally, this ubiquitous connectivity and data revolution is promising major transformations in modes of governance, policymaking and citizen-government interaction..

In the Arab region, observations from public sector and decision-making organization suggest that there is limited understanding of the real potential, the limitations, and the public concerns surrounding these big data sources in the Arab region. This report contextualizes the findings in light of the socio-technical transformations taking place in the Arab region, by exploring the growth of social media and building on past editions in the series. The objective is to explore and assess multiple aspects of the ongoing digital transformation in the Arab world and highlight some of the policy implications on a regional level. More specifically, the report aims to better inform our understanding of the convergence of social media and IoT data as sources of big data and their potential impact on policymaking and governance in the region. Ultimately, in light of the availability of massive amount of data from physical objects and people, the questions tackled in the research are: What is the potential for data-driven policymaking and governance in the region? What are the limitations? And most importantly, what are the public concerns that need to be addressed by policymakers while they embark on next phase of the digital governance transformation in the region?.

In the Arab region, there are already numerous experiments and applications where data from social media and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) are informing and influencing government practices as sources of big data, effectively changing how societies and governments interact.

This 7th Edition of the Arab Social Media Report series has two main parts. In the first part, we explore the questions discussed in the previous paragraphs through a regional survey spanning the 22 Arab countries. In the second part, it explores growth and usage trends of influential social media platforms across the region, including Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and, for the first time, Instagram. The findings highlight important changes and some stagnation in the ways social media is infiltrating demographic layers in Arab societies, be it gender, age and language. Together, the findings provide important insights for guiding policymakers, business leaders and development efforts. More specifically, these findings can contribute to shaping directions and informing decisions on the future of governance and development in the Arab region.

The full report can be accessed from: