Facebook and the World

Social networking has become a central part of many people’s daily lives. However, not only has it evolved into an essential tool for our personal social lives, but it has also begun to change the world on a much larger scale. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have made headlines for their roles in generating and coordinating social movements, political protests and even revolutions—most recently in the Arab Spring uprisings.

Of the various social networks that exist, the king of the jungle is most certainly Facebook. According to Facebook’s official statistics, it has a more than 750 million active users. That means that if Facebook were a country, it would surpass the United States as the third most populous country in the world, behind only India and China.

Of those 750 million, about 70% (525 million) live outside of the U.S. What’s more, Facebook is quickly becoming the dominant social networking site in many of the world’s countries. This map shows (in blue) the countries in which Facebook is the most popular social network:

Of course, Facebook’s world domination is still far from complete, and there are some notable places – including Brazil, Russia and China– where other networks remain more popular. However, if you follow the above link, you can see similar maps going back two years to June 2009, and watch how Facebook’s reach and preponderance has expanded.

Another interesting map that shows Facebook’s far-reaching influence was developed by a Facebook intern last December. Paul Butler mapped the friend connections of the site’s then-500 million members. The result is a fairly illustrative map of the world – although with some obvious gaps.

Given Facebook’s widespread popularity, let’s look at some facts about its use in the world!

Officially, Facebook is available in over 70 languages, although anyone with an account can see in their language settings that there are over 100 options (including regional variations – i.e., US vs. UK English – and a few silly languages like Pirate and Leet Speak). Many of these translations were made possible through the help of over 300,000 user-contributors via Facebook’s Translation application.

So where exactly is Facebook most popular? As you can see in the chart below, currently Europe just edges out North America for the continent with the most Facebook users.

The top five countries, ranked by their number of Facebook users are:

  1. United States (152,897,200 users)
  2. Indonesia (39,193,980 users)
  3. India (31,207,580 users)
  4. United Kingdom (29,853,020 users)
  5. Turkey (29,697,480 users)

Similarly, the top five Facebook cities are:

  1. Jakarta, Indonesia (17,484,300 users)
  2. Istanbul, Turkey (9,602,100 users)
  3. Mexico City, Mexico (9,339,320 users)
  4. London, United Kingdom (7,645,680 users)
  5. Bangkok, Thailand (7,419,340 users)

(Interestingly, the U.S. doesn’t appear on this list until #14, with New York City.)

Since countries and cities with larger populations are naturally more likely to have large numbers of Facebook users, another interesting way to look at the Facebook phenomenon is through the site’s penetration into countries—that is, what percentage of the population of a country uses Facebook. By this measure, the top five Facebook-using countries are:

  1. Monaco (104.10%)
  2. Iceland (67.13%)
  3. Brunei (55.02%)
  4. Singapore (53.84%)
  5. Norway (52.54%)

(By way of comparison, the  U.S. comes in 9th place, with 49.28% of its population on Facebook.)

Also interesting are which countries have the lowest amount of Facebook penetration. The bottom five are:

  1. China (0.04%)
  2. Niger (0.21%)
  3. Chad (0.22%)
  4. Turkmenistan (0.25%)
  5. Burundi (0.26%)

(The data cited here come from SocialBakers, accessed on July 20, 2011. If you are interested in more data about Facebook use around the world, much can be found at www.socialbakers.com.)

While Facebook has spread through much of the world, a few countries have found it necessary to ban the website altogether. Notably, China’s infamous Great Firewall blocked the site and others before the 2008 Olympics as tensions rose over Tibet. The restrictions were later relaxed, then reinstated. Syria blocked Facebook five years ago, and only recently relaxed the ban in an attempt to stave off unrest generated in the Arab Spring movements. Courts in Pakistan and Bangladesh instated bans last year when an event called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” – seen by many Muslims as blasphemous – gained some popularity on the site. The ban is still intact in Bangladesh, but has been lifted in Pakistan, although specific offensive pages remain blocked. Additionally, Vietnam has a Facebook ban that is not strongly enforced, according to The Economist. Iran and others have blocked the site intermittently. Such bans help to explain some of the gaps in Facebook’s otherwise extensive world reach.

Of course, on the Internet, change can occur swiftly and often, and Facebook may not always be on top. Some commentators have wondered if Facebook has reached its peak, having now saturated the market. Others see viable competitors on the rise, notably the recently debuted Google+. Facebook’s reputation has also suffered some damage, especially regarding concerns about privacy violations.

However, the future will bring what it may. Right now, Facebook continues to be the reigning leader of the pack, and is therefore the best representative of the social network phenomenon that is changing the world. And indeed it has had an undeniable global impact, at the very least by increasing interconnectedness. It also appears to provide a platform that can play an important role in political and social change.

Are social networks like Facebook changing international relations, and to what extent? The topic is the subject of some debate, and if you begin to do some reading on the subject, you will be sure to find many insights. Here are a few links to interesting articles to get you started:

  • Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted by Malcolm Gladwell (The New Yorker). This article takes the position that social networks will not bring about revolutions because they promote weak ties and lack hierarchical structures.
  • The Political Power of Social Media by Clay Shirkey (Foreign Affairs). Shirkey – who addresses Gladwell’s argument in this article – believes that social media’s importance lies in its ability to strengthen civil society, which can lead to successful revolutions.
  • America’s Edge: Power in the Networked Century by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Foreign Affairs). According to this argument, networks should change how we view power structures in international relations, and by this metric, the U.S. has an advantage.
  • Did Twitter and Facebook Really Build a Revolution? by Jina Moore (Christian Science Monitor). This article looks at the factors that lead to civic upheavals to determine what role of social media play in current movements, especially the Arab Spring uprisings.

By Rebecca Somple, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern

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