Changes to Twitter unlikely to halt slide in the UAE, experts say

ABU DHABI // Changes to Twitter are not likely to arrest the social media platform’s slide in the UAE and region.

A study by Northwestern University found Twitter use among Emiratis had “fallen significantly” in the past two years.

The study found 55 per cent of those surveyed from the UAE this year said they were using Twitter, down from 69 per cent in 2014.

Among Emiratis aged between 18 and 24, use fell from 73 per cent in 2014 to 67 per cent.


The study also found privacy concerns were also shifting people away from Twitter and Facebook and towards Snapchat and WhatsApp. Fewer users and the decline in Twitter’s share price prompted the company to promise new features.

Attachments such as photos and videos will no longer count in the 140-character limit – they now take up 24 characters – and usernames will also be excluded when replying to tweets. Users will also be able to retweet themselves.

Justin Martin, assistant professor in journalism at Northwestern University in Qatar, did not think the changes would be enough to reverse the decline.

“Twitter use is falling around the world for many different reasons,” Mr Martin said. “Chief among them is the rise in popularity of competing alternative applications.

He said the changes were “not a bad idea, but the move is probably not enough to staunch or reverse losses”. 

Despite the drop, Emiratis’ use of Twitter was still found to be the highest among the six Arab countries surveyed and one of the highest in the world.

After its launch in 2006, Twitter achieved some its highest user penetration rates in the UAE and across the Middle East. Such was the site’s popularity that many commentators called the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 “the Twitter revolutions” because many protests were organised and announced through tweets.

Joe Akkawi, a managing partner at a Dubai public relations firm, has posted 31,000 tweets since joining what he said was his favourite social media platform in 2010.

Although he liked the proposed changes, saying they would address many of his gripes, Mr Akkawi said he did not believe they would result in an influx of new users.

“I still don’t believe though that those updates will help draw more people to the platform,” he said. “Those changes clearly address existing tweeters and don’t show any signs of making it easy for first-time users to use the platform better, which is Twitter’s biggest challenge.”

Benjamin Ampen, Twitter’s regional head of revenue, said the changes would cater to users’ desire to tweet photos and videos.

“We really wanted to make sure that we gave more room to our users to express themselves,” he said.

“By making it more intuitive, we definitely expect people to use the platform even more on a daily basis.”

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