Study: Young online Israelis ‘hyper-connected,’ adults not far behind

The most comprehensive survey ever of how engaged Israelis are with social media portrays a nation that takes full advantage of all the Internet has to offer

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Toldot Aharon community attend a computer and Internet lecture in Ramat Gan, after receiving authorization from their rabbis. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Toldot Aharon community attend a computer and Internet lecture in Ramat Gan, after receiving authorization from their rabbis. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israeli kids aren’t just connected to the Internet; they’re hyper-connected, with three out of four 15-17 year olds connecting to Facebook or other social media every day, engaging socially online far more than their American contemporaries. Israeli kids are online for hours a day, with users aged 15-24 spend about a fifth of their time surfing the Internet on their mobile phones. And among the younger set (12-14), 81 percent use social networks as one of the primary ways of keeping in touch with friends.

And it’s not just the kids who are plugged in. More than a third of Israelis 55-64 connect to social networks either daily or several times a week, as do 22% of those 65 or older. Israeli Arabs are the biggest readers and writers of blogs, while residents of Judea and Samaria are the biggest consumers of online video from services like Youtube. And, despite the best efforts of the powers that be, nearly one third of the ultra-Orthodox population is online. Among ultra-Orthodox people who are online, 81% are regular viewers of Internet video.

These tidbits, and lots more, were unveiled on Monday afternoon, part of the most comprehensive study ever done on Israeli Internet use. Titled “Israel in the Digital Age,” the study was conducted by Dr. Yuval Dror, Head of the Digital Marketing Track at the School of Media Studies at the School of Media Studies at the College of Management — Academic Studies (COMAS) in Rishon Lezion. Dror worked with statistician Sa’ar Gershon and the Mahshov Institute polling group. The study was funded by Google Israel, which, Dror said at a press conference, “was wonderful to work with, in that they did not attempt to influence the questions or methodology in any way.”

Which Google might have perhaps been tempted to do, considering that the Internet is where it makes its money, and proprietary data about what Israelis are doing online might prove very valuable. Instead, the information has been released to the public, and the results are interesting enough to provide data-mining and analysis opportunities for a boatload of database programmers. While other, more limited studies have been done about aspects of Israeli internet use, none has been as comprehensive, analyzing the activity of Israelis in social media, online video viewing, engagement with local and foreign websites, and analyzing the “digital divide,” the differences in web use based on family income or education level. In addition, said Dror, this is perhaps the first that has ever attempted to examine the Internet habits of outlying groups like the ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis.

Overall, the study shows that the People of the Book can perhaps now be more accurately called “the People of the Facebook” (Dror’s study did not check which specific social media services Israeli web surfers were engaging with, but other studies have shown that Facebook is by far the most popular social media service among Israelis). This is true especially among young Israelis; 92% of web users through age 18 are active users of social networks, and 75% are very active (logging onto their accounts at least a few times a week). A US poll in February showed that only 64% of kids there were social media users. Ninety percent of young Israelis watch videos online, and 80%, the large majority of them boys, share photos.

Those numbers were perhaps to be expected, but the study did supply numerous surprises. Over half of all Internet users, of all ages, share photos online, while 21% of all users post videos online. More Israeli Jews (76%) than Israeli Arabs (63%) of all ages watch online video, but more Arabs (27%) than Jews (19%) post videos. Online ultra-Orthodox people, perhaps surprisingly, are the largest consumers of online video, with nearly 81% of them regularly watching Youtube and the like, as compared to 73% of those who termed themselves secular. Altogether, the amount of online video watched rises considerably among Internet users engaged in social media, and this holds true at any age; in fact, nearly as many social media users 65 and older watch online video as do kids under 18.

Blogging is especially popular among Israeli Arabs; 37% of that group read blogs daily, compared to 24% of the Jewish population. Arabs are also more frequent bloggers; of adult Arabs who have a blog, about a quarter post something new every day, compared to 12% of adult Jews. And one out of every four Israeli teenagers writes for a blog (their own, or someone else’s).

There were other interesting differences between the Jewish and Arab population. News reading is among the most popular activity for all ages; 45% of those polled mentioned online news reading as “very important,” far more than searching for information via Google and the like (24%), and social media use (14.8%). That was true for even young users; nearly a third of those ages 15-17 said news reading was a top online activity for them, and it’s among the 25-34 year olds that news reading is most important (55%).

But which sites? Native Hebrew speakers clearly prefer Hebrew; 81% of adult Israeli native Hebrew speakers said they get their news mainly from Hebrew news sites, with the balance getting news from English sites. Arabs, on the other hand, read Hebrew news sites about a quarter of the time, and English sites about 17% of the time. Native Russian speakers were most balanced, getting 42% of their news from Russian-language sites, and the rest split between Hebrew and English sites. Overall, over a third of Hebrew speakers said they never surf to non-Hebrew sites.

The study also investigated the much-discussed but little-documented “digital gap,” where poorer people lose out on online experiences because they can’t afford the time and/or money to engage in social media and online video watching. Indeed, the digital gap exists, the study confirms; 22% of those with incomes significantly below the average surf the Internet on a regular basis, while 40% of that group is not even connected.

Among those with incomes slightly or significantly over the average, the online percentage jumps to over 80%. There was a similar correlation among nearly all groups (secular, Arab, traditional, etc.), with wealthier Israelis more likely to be online that poorer Israelis. Overall, though, Israeli Arabs were the most connected group; three quarters of that group with very low incomes are online, as are nearly all Arabs with high incomes. Among the ultra-Orthodox, two thirds of low income families were not connected, but 60% of those with high incomes were.

The study also correlated education levels with social media use — and here, too, the results were somewhat surprising. While Internet use in general went up with income, social media use did not, and in fact, the higher their education level, the less likely Israelis were to use Facebook and other social media sites. Thus, some 60% of high school graduates used social networks daily, but that figure went down to 26.5% for those with a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, 54% of those with a master’s degree don’t bother with social media, and that non-engagement rises to 60% for Israelis with a doctorate.

Many of the innovations developed in Israel have enhanced the ability of users around the world to get online and communicate with each other, so it’s only fitting that there be a comprehensive study of the online habits of Israelis, said Dror. “The digital age is rapidly changing Israeli society, but in recent years the media and public discourse have lacked reliable, open and comprehensive data which can form the basis for determining policy and making decisions in the public and private sectors alike,” he said. “This survey seeks to open the black box. By examining all the various population sectors in Israeli society, the survey shows how the Internet influences Israelis and determines their priorities, actions and deeds.”

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