Having received credit rightly or wrongly for democratic protests across the Middle East in recent months, Facebook is continuing to make big traffic gains in the region — a trend that had begun before any of the recent protests. But this month it also has lost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of users in some key countries.
Out of the 19 countries we track in the Greater Middle East (from North Africa to Central Asia), seven gained at least 100,000 new users over the previous month, according to our latest Inside Facebook Gold numbers, while three lost at least the same number. Egypt and Pakistan were the most notable gainers, Saudi Arabia lost the most.
Beyond the usual ebb and flows of traffic seen in countries around the world, changes in the Middle East can be due to local factors, specifically new people using the site to mobilize protests, and governments blocking access to Facebook to prevent them from doing so. Of course, like all other traffic that we track using Facebook’s ad tool, changes can also be due to technical bugs. One must look past monthly changes to get a sense for the true trends.
Egypt once again gained the most new users in the region, adding more than half a million people to pass 7 million monthly active users as of May 1, and growing by more than a third of itself in the last three months. Having overthrown a decades-old dictatorship in February — an effort that popular leaders attributed in part to Facebook organizing tools, like Pages and Events — the populace is continuing to move in. With nearly 83 million citizens, many of whom have mobile devices or access to internet cafes where they can use Facebook, the country could see considerable growth for the foreseeable future.
Pakistan gained the second-most new users — 267,000, totaling 4.26 million MAU. It has been making steady gains over the past year, and at this point the 170 million-person country is starting to look like it’s going to see a lot of new growth. Its neighbor India, for reference, has also been breaking out in the past year.
Many smaller countries are also posting gains, including Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan. Lebanon has notably seen ups and downs recently, for unclear reasons.
Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the fastest gainers to date, lost a surprising 238,000 users in total, falling to 3.86 million monthly actives. The monarchy has imposed new censorship rules in the face of unrest elsewhere, although it’s not clear how directly Facebook usage is being affected (it continues to be generally accessible, according to Herdict).
Also odd is the drop in a variety of countries bordering Saudi Arabia, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which each lost more than 100,000 users despite being small to start with (equaling a decrease of more than a quarter of the existing user base for the latter country). Other countries that lost users include: Kuwait, Palestine, Bahrain and Oman.
For anyone interested in Facebook’s future, whether users, developers, marketers, investors or others, identifying the long-term directions here is crucial for planning how to capitalize on Facebook’s success, or lack thereof. We’ll continue tracking the trends here and at our Inside Facebook Gold Stats Page.