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.