The explosion of social media sites around the world has had a huge impact on the way in which we view it. Although for some of us the Internet and social media sites such as Facebook are just a bit of fun, and a great way to get your daily fix of cute cat pictures, for others, Facebook and Twitter are empowering tools used to overthrow oppressive dictatorial regimes and fight oppression.

As hardware is changing so rapidly there is a deluge of obsolete technology in the Western world which is finding its way to Arab nations and into the hands of those previously not necessarily able to afford up-to-date smart phones and tablets. One of the biggest barriers to second-hand mobile technology was the fact that many mobile phone operators locked the phones to only allow their own network sim cards to work in the handsets. In America, President Obama has recently signed a bill to try and reverse the practice of locking handsets to a specific network, but commentators suggest that it may lead to only a small improvement on the current situation.

Recycling phones

Fortunately when it comes to smartphones, an industry has sprung up around them to allow everyday users to unlock their handsets. iPhone unlocking by unlockingsmart.co.uk, for example, offers a worldwide iPhone unlocking service, which means that any iPhone 3 or above can find its way to an emerging market and be used well past its throwaway date in countries like the UK, Germany and the US.

The benefits of access to social media go well beyond just keeping in touch with friends. In Egypt, for example, Facebook groups are rapidly becoming a common way for the unemployed to find work as well as training and educational pages to help them attain the skills required to get into work. Social media can be a great enabler when it comes to social mobility. Whilst we are on the subject of Egypt, let’s not forget the Arab Spring, which was in part thanks to Twitter.

LinkedIn has also seen growth throughout the Arab world as small to medium enterprises look to export to markets beyond their traditional border ties, and seek partnerships on a more global basis. LinkedIn gives Arab businessman the ability to reach out to foreign counterparts and has the added benefit that potential business partners can see a profile and history. You effectively have a CV online and hopefully some endorsements from happy customers/clients.

The rise of social media has had the knock-on effect of bringing more products and marketing to the attention of potential consumers throughout the Arab world. Thanks to sites like Facebook and Twitter, and more unlocked phones, more of us are spending more time online and when that happens, we tend to start shopping online as well. In countries like Saudi Arabia there has been a dramatic shift towards online shopping, particularly among the population aged 25 to 54 years old. The majority of orders are still paid for COD, or cash on delivery, which begs the question: when are the credit card companies and online payment providers going to catch up with their market!