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


  • Norah Abokhodair The University of Washington
  • Sofiane Abbar Qatar Computing Research Institute
  • Sarah Vieweg Qatar Computing Research Institute *Now at Facebook
  • Yelena Mejova Qatar Computing Research Institute



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.

Author Biography

  • Norah Abokhodair, The University of Washington
    I am Norah Abokhodair, a Fulbright scholar and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington Information School. I am also a member of the Value Sensitive Design Lab and a co-founder of the Political project. Building on my undergraduate degree in computer science and my Masters degree in information management, I am an information privacy and security researcher.


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