A recently released map of Facebook usage across Africa provides a snapshot of who’s making the most of the network. There aren’t many surprises but interesting global usage comparisons are being made, especially here at home.
Egypt takes first place as the largest Facebook-using country in Africa, with 13,010 580 users it is ranked twentieth worldwide, having similar usage to countries like Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan. South Africa came in second, not a close second by any means, with 5,534 160 users and similar stats to Saudi Arabia, Romania and Ecuador, ranking at thirty-second in the world. Nigeria came in third with 5, 357 500 users (similar numbers to Ecuador, Morocco and Belgium) at thirty-fifth in the world. The South African comparison to Saudi Arabian Facebook usage is a little alarming considering the political situation in the region and on-going information restrictions. While the rankings are to be expected, this association is not and considering the substantially different laws around information and freedom of speech, particularly gender-based issues, it is confusing that the sub-Saharan gateway to the continent doesn’t have a lot more users to match a population that is nearly twice as large as the Middle Eastern monarchy.
Infrastructure is a major part of this but even so, Saudi Arabian authorities regularly engage in forced negotiations with internet applications and social networks in a bid to censor and restrict the movement of information. In 2010, Saudi officials threatened to ban BlackBerry services in the kingdom unless the company complied with their information regulations. The said regulations were never publicly disclosed but an agreement was reached. In more recent instances, Skype, Viber and WhatsApp have come under similar threats in the region with CNN reporting that Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission released this statement on the matter – “The Commission emphasizes that it will take appropriate action regarding these applications and services in the event of failure to meet those conditions.”
Eman Al-Nafjan, a prominent blogger from Saudi Arabia was not particularly surprised by the statement as it is typical of the monarchy in light of continuing demonstration and banned political expression – “I believe a big part of the reason why this is happening … is because lots of demonstrations that were organized in Saudi Arabia were done through the use of WhatsApp.”
Like in South Africa, the population of Saudi Arabia is a predominantly young one. ‘Sixty percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30 and Internet usage there is soaring’ according to CNN. Hopefully developments in infrastructure, accessibility, interest and allowance create a larger, liberated use of media for both nations.