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Millions of people say they don’t use the Internet – but talk enthusiastically about Facebook. How has this monopoly of the World Wide Web come about? And what wider implications does it have?

Communications surveys were carried out across the developing world, but there were anomalies in their conclusions: despite stating that they don’t use the Internet, those questioned reacted very positively to Facebook.

But what does this mean for us? What does it mean for businesses, including Mark Zuckerberg’s? And what does it mean for the World Wide Web?

How is This Even Possible?

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Many admit to spending far too much time on the world’s most popular social network, but they are, at least, aware that they’re using the Internet; yet studies (including one by think-tank LIRNEasia) in countries like Indonesia, Africa, and the Philippines have found that those surveyed love Facebook – but assert that they don’t use the web. It’s not simple ignorance. They’ve been brought into this culture. While many of us have been introduced to the idea of Facebook through the Internet, in the minds of millions, the two exist separately because their first interaction with the World Wide Web is via the social network.

Even Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, admits:

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“We know Facebook is one of the main drivers of why people buy phones, particularly in the developing world. People will walk into phone stores and say ‘I want Facebook.’ People actually confuse Facebook and the Internet in some places.”

This is a situation partly fashioned by Facebook; in developing countries, sales of smartphones have increased because Facebook is so popular… and is, in many cases, one of the only accessible free apps (alongside its messenger service). A non-profit service striving to get wider web coverage, internet.org, sounds entirely altruistic — providing information about jobs, health, weather, and women’s rights to those unable to easily access the World Wide Web – but it is, in fact, owned by Facebook. So is WhatsApp, used by mobile users worldwide (which has led to concerns over privacy Everything You Need To Know About Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings Everything You Need To Know About Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings Read More ).

Many service providers offer low-priced Facebook-only data plans, while Facebook Zero gives – you guessed it – entirely free access to the social network exclusively. Meanwhile, internet.org boasts Wikipedia and Google Search apps, but only to those with data plans (something unaffordable to 85% of the 4.25 billion people otherwise without Internet access). It’s not the sole service striving for Internet coverage in the developing world, either. Just look at U2opia Mobile, for example, or the great work CloudFactory is doing CloudFactory: Provide Millions Of People In Developing Countries With Basic Computer Work CloudFactory: Provide Millions Of People In Developing Countries With Basic Computer Work Read More . Google also offers India the chance to send free SMS messages Google Brings Free SMS In Gmail To All Mobile Carriers In India [Updates] Google Brings Free SMS In Gmail To All Mobile Carriers In India [Updates] Google has just added India to the growing list of countries that can use Google Chat to send free text messages to mobile phones. Users in India can now send SMS messages from Gmail’s chat... Read More using their Chat service.

Why is This a Bad Thing?

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It’s easy to see why many are concerned that a business has gained such an incredible monopoly over the Internet.

Obviously, net neutrality is the main problem What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More – and it’s something the majority of MUO readers care about Do You Support The Idea Of Net Neutrality? [MakeUseOf Poll] Do You Support The Idea Of Net Neutrality? [MakeUseOf Poll] We care more about your views on net neutrality than the views of any world leader. Because the future of the Internet should be decided by ordinary Internet users. Read More . Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, states that:

“When I designed the Web, I deliberately built it as a neutral, creative and collaborative space, building on the openness the Internet offered. My vision was that anyone, anywhere in the world could share knowledge and ideas without needing to buy a license or ask permission from myself or any CEO, government department or committee. This openness unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, and it is still powering new breakthroughs in science, commerce, culture and much more besides.”

So while the Internet was conceived as an open platform, not owned by any one private organisation, Facebook is a threat to this, capable of censoring anything it likes!

Indeed, changes to its algorithms last year mean that unpaid posts it deems as “overly promotional” have shorter reaches. So, while social media is a good way of spreading a message, they want you to pay as you would a normal advertisement. This especially applies to any posts with “improper mention of Facebook” – which sounds a lot like Facebook censoring criticism.

In a study by Quartz, between 55% and 65% of those asked in Nigeria, Indonesia, India, and Brazil agreed with the statement, ‘Facebook is the Internet’ – compared to just 5% in the USA. It puts freedom of speech and freedom of the press into question: ordinarily, it’s not a surprise that a business or brand would implement limitations, but restrictions on the Internet are more surprising (unless you’re into conspiracies).

Naturally, one negative consequence of a business having too much power is their ability to name a high price, so, in the third quarter of 2014, Facebook’s average price per ad increased 274% year-over-year. However, you could argue that Google has had a monopoly on advertising before now, and so as Facebook becomes its successor, another service will eventually take over from that too.

Nonetheless, LIRNEasia’s Rohan Samarajiva is right when he says that Facebook is “a proprietary platform. It’s not the open Internet that we love and cherish.

What is Facebook’s Aim?

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Even though it’s supposedly founded on the positive idea of bringing people together, we have to remember that Facebook is a business. So what are its intentions?

Facebook isn’t admitting its potential dominance over the Internet, but neither is it denying it. Frankly, we can only speculate, but it would certainly seem advantageous to the company to monopolise information, and censoring negativity towards their service and those name-checking competitors.

FB Newswire is an aggregate resource of verified news and stories from companies you’ve liked – though the latter seems increasingly few and far between. This budding ownership of news is even more troubling, somewhat reminiscent of AOL, the closed platform giant that appeared to dominate control of information on the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

To demonstrate the pulling power of Facebook, Adweek compared the change in referrals from the social network to popular websites between November 2013 and February 2014. The number of referrals to Upworthy, for instance, decreased by 50% in that short period of time, a 51% drop of total unique visitors; meanwhile, BuzzFeed enjoyed a 20% increase in links, resulting in 12% rise in unique readers. Even The New York Times suffered a 16% loss of referrals, translating into an 8% loss in overall visitors.

How much does this data tell us? Does this simply show us the typical peaks and troughs of business, according to what is popular with the general public? Is Facebook directly influencing what is popular? Or are they merely encouraging the trend? Again, we’re forced to speculate.

One thing is for certain though: monopolisation of information is a dangerous thing. A previous concern about ownership interest arose with Rupert Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB, with The Guardian commenting:

“Media silence seems to be infectious, spreading to politicians who are glad to avoid causing offence to powerful proprietors. This isn’t acceptable.”

Does Facebook Have Too Much Power?

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Initially, the fact that people think they’re using Facebook but not the Internet is quite funny. It sounds so improbable.

But considering that Facebook already knows a surprising amount about you Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook knows a surprising amount about us – information we willingly volunteer. From that information you can be slotted into a demographic, your "likes" recorded and relationships monitored. Here are 25 things Facebook knows about... Read More , this is potentially a huge issue. Then again, as LIRNEasia’s Samarajiva notes:

“Maybe it will introduce them to the larger concept of the Internet. They’re already on the Internet. They just don’t know they’re there.”

As a brand intent on growing, was this inevitable? Are you happy with Facebook’s dominance? Or have you ditched it already?

Image Credits: Nopphan Burrag; Lordcolus; Michael CoghlanSean MacEntee.

  1. AlexH
    April 12, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    **Why did it it took popular websites lime you guys or lifehacker so long to bring thks up**

  2. AlexH
    April 12, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Why did it took popular websites like you guys or lifehacker to bring this up? Newer generations think facebook is the internet also. If we continue to embrace these type of platforms the open web might be a thing of the past in a few years. These type of platforms monopolize the internet.

  3. Guy
    April 12, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    People don't need to know how a car works to drive it.
    They don't need to be a physician and psychologist to have kids.
    They don't need to be an engineer to cross a bridge.

    As long as the thing they're using does what they want it to do, then life is good. We all do it. Very few of us ever ask, "How?", or "Why?" Does that make the rest of us stupid or just uninformed? Maybe a little of column A and a little of column B, just like us. :)

  4. dragonmouth
    April 10, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Let's not forget that at one time , as far as millions of people were concerned, AOL was the Internet. Where is AOL now? In a few years, Facebook, in spite of its billion+ users, will go the way of AOL. XYZ company will come up with a better idea and somebody will write an article titled "Millions of people think they use XYZ but not the Internet"

    • Buffet
      April 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      "In a few years, Facebook, in spite of its billion+ users, will go the way of AOL."
      We can only hope!~

    • Ben S
      April 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Buffet, I do hope you're joking. Even if you are, it really isn't funny.

  5. Roger C.
    April 10, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    This confirms my long held belief that MILLIONS of idiots are using the internet when they are actually too stupid to even use a computer. I'm beginning to believe that there should be a licensing process before anyone is allowed unrestricted access.

    • Buffet
      April 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Amen brother!!

  6. pat
    April 10, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    I had to laugh at this comment:

    How has this monopoly of the World Wide Web come about?

    How has this attitude that "the World Wide Web" is the same as the internet come about??

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