Privacy and Social Media Use in the Arabian Gulf: Saudi Arabian & Qatari Traditional Values in the Digital World

Norah Abokhodair, Sofiane Abbar, Sarah Vieweg, Yelena Mejova


We explore the meaning of “privacy” among citizens of the Gulf states of Qatar and Saudi Arabia as it manifests in digital environments. Privacy is an essential and widely respected value in many cultures, and the way in which it is understood and enacted depends on context. Therefore, we conduct this research to understand user behaviors regarding privacy in the digital sphere, where individuals increasingly publish personal information. We present the results of two Arab Gulf based-studies, the first one is a mixed-methods analysis of 18K Twitter posts of Qatari nationals that mention “privacy.” The second study provides qualitative insights through 34 ethnographically-informed interviews that focus on online privacy with Saudi Arabian nationals. In our analysis, we pay attention to the face-to-face and digital contexts in which privacy is mentioned and enacted, and how those contexts lead to varied ideologies regarding privacy. Our findings reveal that in this context, the need and pursuit of privacy stems from the Islamic faith, in addition to the use of paternalistic language by men when discussing women’s privacy is common. Above all, privacy is framed as a communal attribute, including not only the individual, but the behavior of those around them; it even extends beyond one’s lifespan. We contribute an analysis and description of these previously unexplored interpretations of privacy, which play a role in how users navigate social media.

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Norah Abokhodair, Sofiane Abbar, Sarah Vieweg, and Yelena Mejova. 2016. Privacy and twitter in qatar: traditional values in the digital world. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Web Science (WebSci '16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 66-77. DOI:


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