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

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.

#imweekly: July 15, 2013

“Put only on back pages… close the comment box.” Released last month, the Directives from the Ministry of Truth series revealed a repository of more than 2,600 messages sent from government officials to website editors in China during the last decade. The collection offers a window into the mechanisms and idiosyncrasies behind China’s censorship and information filtering systems – including addressing the government’s increasingly nuanced mechanism for how, when, and where to present sensitive information, if at all. In pouring over the archive of messages, experts concluded that one of the most fundamental aims of internet censorship and filtering in China is to prevent gatherings of unauthorized groups.

Are Nigerian officials positioning themselves to heighten online surveillance in the country?  Nigeria’s Minister of the Interior recently stated the government’s intentions to monitor activity online in the name of national security. Earlier this year, The Premium Times of Nigeria reported that the government brokered a $40 million contract with an Israeli software security company to allow widespread monitoring of Nigerian’s online activities. The move was met with widespread criticism from Nigerian netizens, worried about the potential of widespread surveillance without the protection of data privacy laws legal provisions for interception. Nigeria’s lower house of parliament ordered an immediate halt to the deal.

The Kremlin is taking a step back to take a step forward – ordering nearly $15,000 worth of typewriters to skirt fears of foreign government surveillance, in light of the NSA leaks. Russian officials expressed outrage after the leaks documented surveillance of Russia’s leadership at the London G20 meetings. Officials said they were able to deal with the threat.

For protestors in Turkey – it started with police deploying tear gas and water cannons to disperse their encampments. Now, those threats are beginning to move from the physical world into the digital space, reports the EFF. Dozens of social media users have been detained since the protests began in the country, on charges ranging from false information to insulting officials. Users have also been detained for sharing images of police brutality. Meanwhile, officials are using legal controls already at their disposal to potentially tighten the flow of information in the country – one representative called on Twitter to open an office within the country, which would legally give Turkey the right to obtain user data. There is also a push to enact legislation allowing for the removal of any “fake” social media accounts.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

‘Restore the Fourth’ Rallies Aim to Curb Digital Surveillance

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities across the United States and Europe last week as part of the “Restore the Fourth” rallies aimed to call attention to government surveillance. The non-partisan organization Restore the Fourth coordinated protests online and in person against what they deem to be unconstitutional digital surveillance in the United States, including the NSA’s PRISM program.

Restore the Fourth Protest: Market Street, San Francisco

Restore the Fourth protestors march in San Francisco.
Image Credit: Flickr user Ari CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The grassroots movement, which initially galvanized support on Reddit, aims to end all forms of unconstitutional surveillance of digital communications in the United States. To do so, the group endorses the Electronic Frontier Foundation and stance, calling for reforms to the USA Patriot Act, the creation of a special committee to report and publicly reveal the extent of domestic spying, and to hold any public officials responsible for unconstitutional surveillance accountable for their actions.

Rallies of varying sizes gathered in 100 cities across the United Sates, as well as in Munich and London. More than four hundred gathered in Washington DC and in New York. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian posted a Vine video of the New York protest, which gathered in Union Square. A few hundred protestors gathered in San Francisco, reported The Guardian, peacefully making their way down Market Street.

Participants primarily heard about the event online, media spokesperson Douglas MacArthur told The Guardian. As live protests gathered in streets across the country and in Europe, thousands of websites held concurrent protests online. Internet Defense League members including Reddit, WordPress, and Boingboing displayed anti-NSA banner ads on their sites. On Twitter, the #Restorethe4th hashtag gained visibility for news related to the protests and to NSA surveillance more generally.

Now that the fourth of July is over, what comes next for the movement? MacArthur emphasized in an AMA (online interview) on Reddit that the movement was never about a single protest, but about galvanizing support and awareness of the organization’s goals to curb surveillance. When asked when the next protest would be held on Reddit, a New York City rally co-organizer announced August 4th (8/4) as New York’s next rally date and suggested a worldwide “1984” day, after George Orwell’s dystopian classic.

#imweekly: June 10, 2013

Amendments to media and publication laws lead to a swift shuttering of more than 200 websites in Jordan last week. The Press and Publications Department of Jordan claimed responsibility for generating the list of “unlicensed” sites, including Al Jazeera, the site of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, and Time Out magazine. Criticized as opaque and vague, recent amendments require sites viewable (if not necessarily based) in Jordan to register with the Jordanian government, obtain a license, and actively monitor all content produced on the site in order to actively cooperate with Jordanian law.

In what lawmakers defended as an attempt to curb cyberbullying, Internet users in the Mexican state of Nuevo León may now face up to three years incarceration for posting messages or images to social networks that cause “harm, dishonor, discredit to a person, or exposes him or her to contempt.” Defamation is a felon in Nuevo León and the amendment marks an expansion to the stringent laws to apply online. Website operators are also required by law to reveal to authorities the identity of anyone committing an act of defamation. Critics call the legislation opaque and vague, offering undue power to authorities who may wish to quell criticism against public officials.

As protests swell in Turkey, Internet users are using virtual private networks (VPNs) in large numbers to skirt suspected government censorship. Last weekend, more than 120,000 mobile users in Turkey downloaded the free VPM Hotspot Shield, according to the manufacturer. The figure marked a ten thousandfold increase in typical daily downloads for the software on Saturday. Sources inside Turkey reported access to social networking sites in the country were throttled over the last weekend while Turkcell, the largest mobile carrier in the country, denied claims it was blocking the sites. Protests continue in Turkey at time of writing, defying an appeal from the prime minister end the unrest.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.