Millions Of Users Unaware That Facebook Is On The Internet — Or Think It *Is* The Internet

from the that's-what-I-call-a-gatekeeper dept

Facebook figures often enough on Techdirt, and most people here know what they are getting and giving when they sign up. But according to a fascinating article on qz.com, that’s not true for everyone around the world who uses Facebook:

It was in Indonesia three years ago that Helani Galpaya first noticed the anomaly.

Indonesians surveyed by Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

Nor are Indonesian users alone in this view:

In Africa, Christoph Stork stumbled upon something similar. Looking at results from a survey on communications use for Research ICT Africa, Stork found what looked like an error. The number of people who had responded saying they used Facebook was much higher than those who said they used the internet. The discrepancy accounted for some 3% to 4% of mobile phone users, he says.

The rest of the article goes on to present more evidence that many people are unaware that Facebook is on the Internet, or believe that Facebook is the Internet, and to explore the consequences. For example, one survey shows that 56% of Indonesians who use Facebook but say they don’t use the Internet never follow links out of Facebook, against 25% who are on Facebook but say they also use the Internet; for Nigeria, the figures are 69% and 21% respectively. That confirms the immense power of Facebook to act as a gatekeeper — to people online, to information, and to the lucrative advertising that powers most of the Web.

Although you can hardly blame Facebook for people’s misunderstanding of how the Internet works when they use the social network, one major project from the company is likely to make things worse. Here’s what the significantly-named Internet.org app hopes to achieve:

Over 85% of the world?s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, yet only about 30% of the total population accesses the internet. Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the Internet.org app to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services.

With this app, people can browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges. By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise.

The aim here is to provide low-cost access to the Internet for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. In fact, Internet.org goes further: it provides totally free access to the Internet — or rather, free access to a very small list of pre-selected sites, including, of course, Facebook.

The intention is laudable, but Internet.org is a classic demonstration of why we need net neutrality. Providing free services may look great in principle, but effectively discriminates against everything not on the list, especially startups with limited resources. We certainly need to work on providing very low-cost Internet access to everyone who wants it, but not by creating a set of privileged services. One other risk with Facebook’s Internet.org app is that it will probably encourage yet more people to think that those free services are not on the Internet, or that they are Internet — all of it.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Millions Of Users Unaware That Facebook Is On The Internet — Or Think It *Is* The Internet”

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61 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Wait a second you Facebook shill. Google is the Internet. – Clueless politician

Yeah and it pays Mike to shill for them. WHY U NO DEBATE ME MIKE? – Techdirt troll and honorable MAFIAA shill

*facepalm* – The rest of us

Now you stop diluting my trademark. *sues* – Facebook

What am I witnessing? – Tim

Ahem. Instead of offering such services why not raise awareness to the fact that the Internet is much, much more thanmere applications in a smartphone?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… why not raise awareness to the fact that the Internet is much, much more than mere applications in a smartphone?

Because many people, including many otherwise technically inclined people, are notoriously susceptible to tunnel vision. If it’s not in their specific area of expertise, they don’t want to hear about it and dismiss it as irrelevant, extraneous, needless complexity.

Darwin in action. In earlier times, this would have been a potentially fatal mode of operation, kind of like not believing in vaccination. Our modern civilization encourages people to remain ignorant of things outside their specialty. They’re more easily dealt with as a herd that way.

This story surprises me not at all. I’ve been saying for a long time that the most clueless, with respect to computing in general, are the legal and medical professions, two of the most highly educated demographics we have.

Throw enough extraneous minutia at people and they will go out of their way to avoid having to deal with any more, even if it might save their lives to know it.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

tqk wrote:

Because many people, including many otherwise technically inclined people, are notoriously susceptible to tunnel vision. If it’s not in their specific area of expertise, they don’t want to hear about it and dismiss it as irrelevant, extraneous, needless complexity.

Throw enough extraneous minutia at people and they will go out of their way to avoid having to deal with any more, even if it might save their lives to know it.

tl;dr

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“WHY U NO DEBATE ME MIKE?”

Hey the shills don’t talk like that. That’s how a foreigner talks and the only reason they talk like that is because they are portraying their native language onto English. It’s not due to incompetence. It’s perfectly understandable, at least until they gain more familiarity with the language. Anyone new to a language will make similar mistakes.

The shills around here make the kind of mistakes that indicate they are illiterate and incoherent. English is their only language but they can’t even speak it well. They don’t have another language to portray onto English that results in mistakes. Their speech and reading comprehension capabilities are more akin to someone who has started learning their very first and only language at a much older age.

Anonymous Coward says:

I live in Ontario, Canada and for the longest time most of the major carriers offered some form of plan that offered access to “social” sites/apps but didn’t include data. It was there way of pretending to offer a cheaper alternative to having “internet access” on your phone by having what was essentially the same as AT&T’s sponsored data effort accept with a cap of 0 bypassed by certain major apps.

In this context, I can definitely see some phone users saying they only use Facebook and not the internet. I can only imagine some exec for Big Telecom shivering with delight at the thought of customers saying such things. One step closer to a tiered internet where people are paying for the application and not the access.

Baron von Robber says:

My colleague tells a story (which was verified by another that was with him) about walking down a main hall of our work place. They were discussing firewalls, infrastructure, etc.

A 3rd employee going the other way overhears some of the conversation. She stops them and asks the colleague, “My sister’s Internet went down last night. Was that because of you?”

No joke, she was serious.

That and some people take Facebook as *news*.

Sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Something to consider...

There is a pretty basic explanation for some of this. Especially the data from Africa where inexpensive smartphones are the only connection that many people have online. On some implementations of Android the stock Android browser is simply labeled “Internet” and people access Facebook through a native app loaded on the phone. It is not hard to imagine many people there when asked this question interpreting it to be asking about which apps they use on their device. It would be perfectly understandable then for a person to say that they don’t use the “Internet” but still use “Facebook” all the time regardless of if they have an understanding of how it all works or not.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Something to consider...

“On some implementations of Android the stock Android browser is simply labeled “Internet””

True, and that irritates me tremendously. That’s even worse than when Microsoft misnamed its browser “Internet Explorer”, which bothered me at the time because there’s vast swaths of the internet that can’t be “explored” with a browser.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Something to consider...

Browsers can actually be used to “explore” much more of the Internet than most people are aware of as they are capable of sending and receiving far more than just HTTP requests. Still that is besides the point. The reason I made this point is that the flaw in the article is based on the assumption that there is only one meaning for the word “Internet” (and “Facebook” too for that matter – ie. “Facebook” could refer to the service, the app, or even the company that provides both). Context is what is needed to determine which is definition is intended. The problem with statistics and articles about them such as this one is that they often strip away that context.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Something to consider...

“Browsers can actually be used to “explore” much more of the Internet than most people are aware of as they are capable of sending and receiving far more than just HTTP requests.”

Yes, but even so, they can’t explore the entire internet.

“the flaw in the article is based on the assumption that there is only one meaning for the word “Internet””

I don’t think that’s a flaw — there really is only one one meaning for the word “internet”. It’s a proper noun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Something to consider...

Languages are dynamic. Words mean what it is people generally accept them to mean. Like it or not, if someone creates an app, calls it “Internet” and enough people accept it and refer to it as such, the word takes on an additional meaning regardless of any other meanings already in existence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Something to consider...

I feel where you are coming from. Trust me. I still cringe every time I hear someone use the term “cable modem” which would more accurately be termed “cable bridge” or “cable router” because it is not actually a modem at all. Still, regardless of how much it pains me to hear people who have no idea what a modulation and demodulation is and that the word modem is derived from a device that does that to convert analog signals to and from digital data, I have to accept the term is the word for that digital device in the corner because the vast majority of people have come to accept it as so and that simply is how languages work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: None of this is new

I don’t think thats the same thing. In that case, they new what the internet, the web in particular, was and in fact use Google or other search engines to find various web sites, but they don’t know how to communicate that properly, in this people believe Facebook is literally and in it’s entirety the internet or that Facebook is somehow separate from the internet.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: None of this is new

The Internet : national transportation system
The Web : national highway system
Web Browser : your automobile
Search Engine : road atlas, GPS device or information kiosk

Very good.

AOL or Facebook : bus tour operator ?

Nah. Roadside theme parks. Paul Bunyan and Blue statues, or fifty foot statue of Hey Zeus Crisco at the entrance (not Disneyland).

Anonymous Coward says:

A site like Facebook need not necessarily be on *The Internet* — such as if your cell provider has a direct (private) line to the Facebook servers. My understanding of the definition of “Internet” means ‘to be transmitted over public data lines’ rather than a dedicated or leased line or private/semiprivate network, so a CDN might not even qualify within the definition of the term.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“My understanding of the definition of “Internet” means ‘to be transmitted over public data lines’ rather than a dedicated or leased line or private/semiprivate network”

This is not the case.

The internet is a large set of private networks that are themselves networked together. The linkages by which they are networked together is the internet infrastructure. Many of those linkages are not public data lines (which is actually a pretty vague term, but in this case, it doesn’t matter exactly what you mean).

It is entirely possible to transmit a packet of data over the internet without that data ever touching a public data line in any sense of the phrase.

Anonymous Coward says:

Boy, i could see how this could cause some confusing arguments between those that know and those that dont

One side doesnt realise their using the internet

The otherside doesnt realise the otherside doesnt realise their using the internet

Both sides coming from two totally different perpectives, neither one realising it, unless specifically called attention too………..actually, thinking about it, that probably happens alot, assumptions being made, and no obvious indications to question those assumptions, again, unless s………..where was i ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

“Providing free services may look great in principle, but effectively discriminates against everything not on the list,”

I know what you mean……..i mean it would be great if the internet was free, so that EVERYBODY can join in if they choose, but then you would ACTUALLY have to include the WHOLE internet, and thats never likely to happen

Also, this thing could be misused by those that realise theres a platform they could manipulate that has millions of users, who might not go outside the boundary of free in order to find information not permitted

Anyway, getting beyond myself here, i reserve my judgement until i see such evidence

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Did you know the world wide web is not the internet?

Really. There are things on the internet yet off the web.

Before facebook was the internet, people believed it was Google.

Before that, Yahoo.

Before that, the web.

Before that, usenet.

And heck, once upon a time, AOL was its own network like Compuserve that HAD an internet gateway.

Man, I’m old.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Did you know the world wide web is not the internet?

John Fenderson wrote:

Hell, for that matter, I remember when AOL didn’t exist and everyone had to buy their own coasters.

You bought coasters? When I was younger we had to go out into the forest and just hope we found a really flat rock.

(I also remember when we had to use * and _ for emphasis. Kids these days with their “bold” and their “italics”…)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Did you know the world wide web is not the internet?

Luxury!

When we etched our stone slates we had one, ONE box of movable type, and once you used your five asterisks that was it until the next go around.

And mail was delivered by pony. And wireless meant you didn’t have to pay the transatlantic surcharge.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

I see this all the time. I thought it was confirmation bias on my part, or weirdly skewed sampling. This seems very much an Indo thing, but also seems to manifest itself quite a bit among Filipinos. They can’t even figure out how to use an email address and make up a name and password for a simple registration on some other site.

But beyond FB and localizing the issue anywhere, I am constantly confounded by the complete inability to do simple things as is displayed by the purportedly tech-savvy generations who never even knew a world without internet.

eol says:

At work we have something called “The Incident of The Week”.

Not long ago a guy comes to our offce and says: “I don’t have the Internet”. When my coworker asks him to be a little more specific (“So, you don’t have a connection?”) the guy just repeatedly says he “just can’t access it”.

It turned out he accidentally deleted the internet explorer icon from his desktop…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m from Indonesia. many phone provider (think of sprint or t mobile) give free access to facebook,twitter or whatsapp (or local sites). considering the datarates is varied (from $1 per 10 mb up to 1$ per gb depend which provider) and many area only has 2g/edge speed. many people just used facebook only and never click link outside facebook.
well, at least you can see your friend picture and retweet their tweet.

John85851 (profile) says:

This story is not true

I would suggest changing the title of your article since this story isn’t true. According to an article on Cracked.com:
The Hobbit Got A Kid Suspended: 6 BS Stories That Went Viral

“The “millions” ballpark [number] came from an anecdotal report from a think-tank employee who noticed that slightly more Indonesians claim to use Facebook than the Internet, an interesting result that raises a legitimate question about how people think about and use the Internet. Quartz took that and conducted their own (1,000-person, confusingly worded) poll to confirm it, resulting in the misleading headlines you see above. Now, there most likely are Facebook users out there who think it exists outside the Internet, but we’re guessing most of them are under 7 and using it exclusively to play Candy Witch Farmers Alliance or whatever.”

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