First steps in understanding the Arabic-speaking blogosphere

arabicblogs In light of what’s happening in Iran at the moment, and the role of social media in connecting people, a new report on the Arabic blogosphere makes for interesting reading.

While Iran isn’t an Arab country, its location and influence in an area of the world constantly in the news makes the report all the more interesting.

The report, by the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University analyzed some 35,000 active Arabic language blogs in 18 different countries.

A BBC report nicely summarizes key aspects from the report; highlights that caught my attention include:

  • "We found that the Arabic blogosphere is organised primarily around countries," said John Kelly of Morningside Analytics, which did statistical and network analysis on the project, noting that Egypt formed the largest cluster on the Arabic blogging map. The study also singled out Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria as having sizable blogging clusters.
  • "’Blogger,’"said Saad Ibrahim, a Harvard professor and well-known Egyptian dissident, "has become almost a revered term in Egypt. Groups that are otherwise completely disenfranchised, the only outlet for them is online." He noted that many Egyptian bloggers have paid dearly in recent years for voicing their opinions online. Bloggers have been imprisoned, and even tortured by the authorities. But that, Mr. Ibrahim said, has galvanized public opinion even more in the bloggers’ favour.
  • The report identified two large cross-national groups of what the authors call "bridge bloggers." One group is located in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and frequently blogs in English in addition to, or instead of, Arabic. Another group of bloggers in North Africa does much the same thing, only in French and Arabic.
  • The authors found that Arabic bloggers mostly focus on local politics and local issues, and that, perhaps surprisingly, "the United States is not a dominant political topic in Arabic blogs; neither are the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan."
  • The one political topic that did cut across all the various clusters in the Arabic blogging world, however, was the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, in particular the situation in Gaza. Berkman’s Bruce Etling noted that the authors were also surprised "that there was no cluster around extremism or jihad." In fact, the report notes, "When discussing terrorism, Arab bloggers are overwhelmingly critical of violent extremists."
  • Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi who writes a popular blog called Raed in the Middle, noted that many Iraqis are not blogging at all because the infrastructure in the country remains so bad. And those that are online, Mr. Jarrar said, "tend to participate in private group websites or bulletin boards, not public blogs. And so it’s skewed. It’s all about how gets to have access, who speaks English, and who gets linked to by the Western media."
  • The reports authors, though, did not shy away from criticism. They noted that the study was only designed to analyze publicly accessible blogs, and that it should not be considered a survey of the entire Arabic-speaking world. "We have no idea whether, or to what degree, these attitudes reflect broader public opinion," said Mr Kelly of Morningstar Analytics. Berkman’s Bruce Etling said that the report was just a first step in understanding what’s going on online in the Arabic-speaking world.

Mapping The Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture and Dissent by The Internet and Democracy Project at Harvard University. PDF download.

Arabic blogosphere begins to bloom, BBC News.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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