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What Twitter Can Tell Us about Attitudes towards Privacy in Qatar

Next in this Web Science 2016 session is Yelena Mejova, whose work examines how privacy is being discussed on social media in Qatar. Privacy has a number of definitions: the right to be left alone, right to intimacy, etc. But privacy is also defined differently in different regions of the world; the dominant western definitions of privacy may not align with definitions that are prevalent elsewhere, such as for example in the Gulf region.

Culture in the Gulf region is relationship-based and collectivist, and loyalty and honour are exceptionally important values. This is also a rapidly developing region, with substantial growth in the use of communication technologies, including social media. Understandings of privacy here are based in Islam - in both the Qur'an itself as well as in the Hadith.

Three domains emerge from this: home privacy; the privacy of gender-exclusive spaces; and the privacy of the individual. Gender relationships are organised between notions of mahram (unmarriageable kin) and non-mahram people; personal privacy is affected by rules about what parts of the body women may reveal in public.

The present study, then, examines how Qataris discuss privacy on Twitter: this, then, focusses on public discussion of such matters rather than utilising surveys or other data gathering techniques. The study began with a gazette of locations in Qatar, matched this against a 45-day sample of the Twitter decahose, collected followers of identified users, filtered these for Qataris, and collected their tweets.

To filter for Qataris the accounts identified were also matched against common Qatari family names to distinguish native Qataris from non-Qatari citizens. Their tweets were filtered against a set of privacy-related terms, and processed for their topics of discussion. This resulted in some 2,500 highly relevant tweets.

Various key themes emerge from this: discussions about the balance between society and religion; the importance of honour, also with strong religious overtones; etc. Secondary topics that emerge from all of this also address issues of respect, of technology, of gender roles, etc. Some of these address religious and moral topics; others are more focussed on technical and practical matters. While there was an even split between men and women discussing privacy on Twitter, men were more active discussing religious and cultural norms.

Some key observations that emerge from this are that privacy is gendered, that privacy is less what one exposes but what one is exposed to, that privacy concerns continue even after death, and that privacy is a moral issue in a religious sense. Some users leave social media spaces explicitly because of these issues, in fact.