14 Feb 2011

How Facebook Is Mapping the Free World

Following up on yesterday’s topic related to information and free access to it, it is impossible not to touch on another media frenzy – how much networking websites tell about us. An attempt to map the geographical distribution of friendships on Facebook draw my attention. The map identifies a higher concentration of friendships in North America, Europe, India, Southern Brazil and North Argentina, the West Coast of South America, some areas of the South – East Pacific. If we were to cross-reference the density of Facebook relations with total population density, then for some regions the results would be explainable – more people, more connections.

But how about the countries in transition? The big blank on the map corresponds to China, Russia and most of Africa. Blanks can be explained in three ways: (1) The people living there do not have access to internet; (2) The people living there do not want to use Facebook (for various reasons – more popular internet networks, the use of traditional methods of socialization); (3) The people living there do not have access to Facebook. Let us take each of these options one by one.

Lack of access to internet. In 2010 the highest number of people using the internet was in Asia (825mil users). Breaking that number down by countries in Asia, China has the absolute lead with almost half of all internet users in Asia. India and Japan follow next, but they each barely reach 10% of all users on the continent. In Europe, continent with the second largest number of internet users in the world, Russia and Germany have a comparable total number of internet users, with Russia’s population being two times larger than that of Germany. With an average 10% of population using internet in Africa, we would not expect Africa to be lighten up on the Facebook map.

As much as I would want to, the data freely available does not allow me to discuss Facebook’s market shares as compared to the other networks, or people’s willingness to sign up for a social networking website. Therefore, if we were to run these analyses with real numbers – as I sincerely hope someone will some day – we would expect these factors to be a significant source of error.

Lack of access to Facebook. I believe that most Facebook users, such as myself, will have discovered that the effects of networking online are more or less the same as those of networking in real life. That is especially true for building social capital. Social capital can mean a lot of things. For you it might mean attending more parties. For governments it might mean revolutions, such as that witnessed not long ago in Moldova. Thus, the incentive to control it somehow is very high.

For most of the people who are reading this using a Facebook account might be their favorite way of wasting time in work breaks. For the people feeling the blanks on the Facebook map it might mean having the capacity to access and distribute information, which is now unrightfully not granted to them. If we look at it that way, then the Facebook map is not just a map of density of social connections, but an indicator of freedom in all its meanings. Under this assumption, the blanks are ridiculously overwhelming.

Author: Sinziana – Elena Poiana

*Disclaimer: This article presents the views of the author and it is not the official position of the institutions supporting this project.