Quartz just issued a survey as part of Mozilla’s “Internet Health Report v.0.1” that provides some insight into Facebook’s influence on emergent markets. One of the questions was “Do you agree that Facebook is the Internet?” and for 55% of Brazilians the answer was a, ‘Yes’.
More than half of the interviewees did not perceive an online world outside of the platform. To say most people do not know how the internet works at a basic level can seem like an exaggeration in modern society, but for Brazil and other emergent markets, this is much closer to reality than it seems.
The main difference in countries like Brazil is users tend to concentrate all their social media activity on a single platform, and, for the past few years, Facebook has reigned absolute.
Brazil has the third largest online community with the 90~99 million users, right behind the U.S. (~191 million) and India (~195 million). However, when you consider overall population, Brazil is the 2nd largest market with 45% of the country connected to the internet, compared to India (14%) and still growing. These numbers imply that 8 in every 10 connected users are Facebook users.
Facebook’s popularity in Brazil is so massive that the largest phone carrier operators offers exclusive products and features to their data plan. Rather than the usual service offering for general internet access, the companies focus on giving customers access specifically to Facebook and by extension to WhatsApp and Messenger.
Facebook has its own web-access expansion plans. One of the most immediate examples is the Free Basics Project (also known as Internet.Org), a partnership between the company, governments and carriers that have the proposal of offering basic mobile internet services to low-income or remote locations, using satellites and even Boeing-sized drones.
This comes with a heavy burden – recent surveys showed that young people cannot distinguish news from advertising. When you combine the power of Facebook and the conflict that commerce can place on information distribution aka Fake News. The impact on targeting an economically weak group of users probably requires ethics of steel and most likely will lead to regulation as the market matures.
Facebook Brazil has released the “Projeto Jornalismo” (Journalism Project), a partnership with the major media organizations like Estadão and Exame. This project assures the publication of articles directly onto Facebook without the need for the user to access traditional websites. Whether it is enough to prevent the truth from being interpreted is open for debate.
One thing is certain: Facebook is expanding its methods and conquering new fields in information sharing, and embracing partnerships with traditional media companies. So, even if Facebook isn’t the Internet- for emerging economies it comes pretty close.