The growing numbers of Twitter users in markets including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made the Mena region one of the most important regions for the microblogging service while growth in the United States and elsewhere stalls.
“The Mena region is one of the fastest growing regions for Twitter worldwide today, particularly in the Gulf region,” said Parminder Singh, Twitter’s managing director for South East Asia, India and Mena, during a telephone interview.
“The UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular represent some of the largest groups of active users,” he said, declining to give specific figures.
Mr Singh said that the official tweet announcing the ascension of King Salman in Saudi Arabia in January last year received 375,000 retweets, making it the sixth most retweeted tweet globally for the year, with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal sports club one of Twitter’s largest sports brands.
Growth in Twitter’s Middle East active-user base comes in the midst of a declining active user base elsewhere, even as the service’s revenue continues to grow.
Last month, the service announced its first-ever period of no subscriber growth, with its December total of 320 million global active users unchanged from September, while its user base in the US actually fell by 2 per cent during the quarter.
Mr Singh insisted that the number of international active users had increased during January and was expected to further increase, giving no further details about February numbers.
The slowdown in active-user growth has prompted the microblogging site to consider changes to the service. These include displaying tweets in order of prominence rather than chronological order, a move designed to appeal to advertisers, and the possible scrapping of the 140 character limit for individual tweets.
Twitter faces a series of challenges regarding government censorship within the wider Middle East region. The service has come under severe pressure in Turkey, where it received 450 requests for content removal in the second half of last year.
Twitter remains largely banned in Iran, despite a limited opening of the service after the lifting of sanctions in January.
“Governments in [the Arabian Gulf region] are using Twitter as a very strong medium of outreach,” said Mr Singh. “We continue to extend cooperation and work with them in a spirit of participation, so they can make good use of this medium.”
Twitter received 62 requests for information from authorities in the UAE last year – it complied with 27 of those, compared with 17 in 2014, according to the company’s latest transparency report.
The service has received just three requests from UAE authorities to remove content in the past three years, none of which it has complied with, according to the report.
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