Facebook has over 1.4 billion users, but millions of these members don’t realise they’re using the internet when they access the site – even Facebook’s operational Head, Sheryl Sandberg admits this. When asked if they have internet, and whether they use Facebook, people in Indonesia and Nigeria didn’t make the connection between the two. In fact, one in 10 users in both regions denied having access to the web, but said they use Facebook daily.
Quartz, a digital news outlet, commissioned a survey of 500 people to see how people perceive the concept of the web. The surveys took place in December 2014 and were conducted over text message to specifically targeted phone users across all the states in Nigeria. The findings go some way to confirm habits that were first discovered by Helani Galpaya at the think tank, LIRNEasia in 2012. The full data is available here.
Quartz also ordered surveys in India, Brazil and Indonesia and studied Americans online. Participants were asked a series of questions such as whether they had used the internet and Facebook during the previous month, and if they agreed with the statement ‘Facebook is the internet.’ In Nigeria, 9% of Facebook users said they aren’t on the web. Nigeria had the highest number of people (65%) who believed Facebook is the internet compared to just 5% of Americans.
Mr Mirani wrote: ‘It would be silly to extrapolate this to the entire population of Nigeria or Indonesia.’ ‘But the survey does provide replicable evidence of the behaviours described by Helani Galpaya. ‘Considering the substantial percentages, the data suggest at the very least that a few million of Facebook’s 1.4 billion users suffer from the same misconceptions.’
So how did Facebook become the internet?
For almost 10 years, Facebook has been on a mission to ‘make the world more open and connected’. It does this through its NGO, internet.org, a company that aims to ‘bring the internet to two thirds of people around the globe that don’t have it’. It provides those in developing countries with free access to what they term as “basic internet services”, which provides Facebook, Facebook Messenger and other country specific services e.g. Information on Ebola and Women’s rights. The only way you can access the wider web is through Google or Wikipedia and a data plan is required for this. This scheme suffered a substantial backlash worldwide as it violated the principles of net neutrality. Only recently, in May 2015, internet.org agreed to operate as a free platform for developers who met certain guidelines. Apps created by the developer has to be data based and cannot include services that use considerable bandwidth such as video or high-resolution photos.
Telecom companies across the developing world also contribute to the confusion – as Mr Mirani wrote ‘Mobile web users spend a lot of time on Facebook and WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook). Mobile networks see this and offer these customers social-only plans.’ In Nigeria, these social only plans often don’t provide users with access to the internet but access to social media tools only.
Also, the shift in social media in today’s society plays a key role. Businesses have expanded their customer service from the web to social media tools, such as Facebook. Users no longer have to leave Facebook to access information or connect with companies. Some businesses in Nigeria go as far as to sign up for free Facebook business pages in order for a portion of the millions of Facebook users to connect with them, instead of creating corporate websites – an approach that is highly not recommended. In the survey, 21% of Nigerians never follow a link from Facebook to alternative webpage whilst 54% only open a link sometimes. Majority of users aren’t opening links to go to other pages, so although it’s hard to believe, it’s understandable why majority of Nigerians agree with the statement that “Facebook is the internet”.