Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Facebook Use: Access, Filtering, and Languages

Facebook has just produced a map visualizing pairs of friends across the globe; the map is visually stunning, and as the Guardian points out, it also shows huge gaps where Facebook isn’t being used.

Facebook's visualization of friend connections globally

For some countries, the reasons are fairly obvious: Orkut is hugely popular in Brazil, and so it seeks to reason that Brazilians wanting to find their friends online would be better off doing so there. For other locales, the reasoning is less obvious: Could it be that Facebook doesn’t offer a local language? Though the list of languages in which Facebook is offered is continuously growing, there are certainly gaps – Burmese, for example. Another missing variable is where Facebook is blocked: Iran, Syria, and China currently, though several other countries — including Pakistan and Bangladesh just this year — have blocked Facebook at some point. You can check out the OpenNet Initiative’s research and maps of filtering of social network for more details.

Then there’s the larger issue of access: Only three countries on the African continent (Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia) have Internet penetration rates over 10%, and only Morocco has a rate over 30% (ITU places it at 41% for 2009). The map below, from Online Africa, illustrates the very real issue of disparities in Internet access across Africa:

Map of Internet penetration in Africa, from Online Africa

Of course, Africa isn’t the only region where access is lacking; for more stats on Internet penetration, ITU stats are worth poring over.

So, while using or not using Facebook may simply be a choice in places like Brazil or Russia, in other locales the issue is not whether to use Facebook but whether access to the Internet is even an option.

Edit: And here’s another piece discussing population as a factor in Russia.

10 Comments

  1. That was quick!
    Potential reasons for some darker areas:
    Russia: vkontakte.ru
    Brazil: Orkut.com
    China: renren.com

  2. I’m not really sure what to make of this. I agree that web censorship is pretty authoritarian, but what can we really do if – say – Russia limits its citizens’ access to Facebook and other social networking sites? We might not like it but there’s not much we can do about it.

    • Well, there’s plenty – Syria has a high number of Facebook users despite the block, because Syrians have figured out how to circumvent filters and have been particularly active in sharing that information with others. There are certainly political issues surrounding the propagation of circumvention technology, but I for one believe that it will ultimately render Internet filters useless.

      I’m not trying to say Facebook access is paramount, rather, that there are a multitude of reasons why someone might not use Facebook.

  3. Wow, I was amazed by the map, although I still cannot understand where my country – Kyrgyzstan – is on this map. :)

    It seems like we are too small to be represented in the sample that facebook used for this visualization. :)

  4. I’m not surprised by the lack of use in Africa – you are right – it has to do with lack of access. It doesn’t mean Africa is left out of the conversation – if you made a map of Skypers for instance I’m sure you see Africa dominate the map :-)

    @kofic

  5. Very enlightening analysis!

  6. I have to say though, I was expecting Syria to be completely dark. That strip of white streaking from under Turkey contains all the major cities, Aleppo, Damascus, Lattakia and Homs, as well as Beirut and Amman.

    The way I see it, Syria is pretty lit up.

    • There are so many Syrians on Facebook; I find it infinitely interesting and actually quite funny that, despite the ban, even government officials have a Facebook presence!

  7. But the thing is, Syrians who get in via proxy, their IP addresses won’t show Syria.

    The result is a little confusing.

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