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: June 24, 2013

The Tunisian Internet Agency building, the center of the former Tunisian regime’s Internet censorship facuilities and once a home of the former dictator Ben Ali, is being changed into a hackerspace and open wifi hotspot for nearby citizens.  Plans are in the works to extend the range of the building’s routers to allow Internet sharing with more of the population.

A recent report from the Citizen Lab found that Pakistan is using Netsweeper, a filtering technology managed by a Canadian company, to block websites or tamper with DNS. The Pakistani government is planning to block more URLs and SMS text messages in the country. However, five international companies who sell surveillance and filtering software have committed not to help Pakistan, after protests from civil rights groups.

Human rights activists have filed a request to investigate the use of the FinFisher surveillance software by the Mexican government, which they suspect has been used to spy on journalists and activists in the country. A Citizen Lab report detailing FinFisher’s use in 36 countries was the spark that prompted the investigation. Drug-related violence in the country may have allowed the government to launch several surveillance programs without significant resistance from civil society.

United States
Facebook announced it has fixed a bug on Friday which has potentially leaked 600 million users’ email addresses and phone numbers. The bug allowed users downloading an archive of their user account to also download other users’ information. Security researchers have also discovered that Facebook is collecting data on people without a Facebook account and also has been keeping a shadow profile of every user that includes information not shared by the users directly with Facebook. The bug had been active for the past year, though Facebook says it has no evidence that the bug was exploited maliciously.

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