Impediments to internet access must be overcome
When Barack Obama won the US presidential election he sent a Twitter message to his 22.5 million followers declaring “four more years” along with a picture showing him hugging his wife Michelle.
The simple message reverberated around the world in retweets that set a new record for Twitter. Social media site Facebook also carried the message, clocking an initial 2.1 million “likes” to become the most liked posting ever.
And yet despite the seemingly enormous reach of these social media, it’s worth considering the enormous numbers who are yet to access the popular media format.
Facebook claims 552 million daily users of its service, and Twitter says it has 500 million active users who send 340 million tweets a day. LinkedIn says it has 175 million registered “professionals” of all sorts who can network and transact business over these connections.
The numbers are massive – well over a billion people collectively: people who use their computers, tablets and smartphones to send messages, gossip, complain, libel and cajole.
Despite the impressive number of users, only a third of the world’s population has access to the internet which supports these services, according to the International Telecommunications Union. That means two-thirds of people on the planet don’t have access to, and can’t join, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
The numbers change when looking at regions, with internet penetration reaching 79 per cent in North America and 68 per cent in Oceania and Australia, according to Internet World Stats.
At the other end of the scale, penetration in Africa is just 16 per cent, and 27 per cent in Asia, although their huge populations make both of these a sizeable number of users overall.
Even in Europe internet penetration stands at 63 per cent, a figure that looks too low for such a developed and rich part of the world. With the EU population at about 502 million, that means 185 million people are not on the internet and so are not plugged in to social media.
Who are these people? How have they managed to miss out on what the internet is doing to modify our social structures and the way we choose to communicate?
This cohort is not all made up of “old” people, whatever that means, as statistical studies from the US suggest.
Half of American adults aged 65 and older use the internet or email, this despite being in an age category that is less likely than all other age groups to use the internet, according to a report published last June by the Pew Research Centre in the US. And a third of internet users aged 65 and older use social media networks, 18 per cent of them every day.
Maybe it is time to discover who is not connecte,d and why. Society is imbalanced and unjust enough without finding new internet-based forms of social exclusion and isolation.
There are no doubt many seniors who will not have the capacity to learn the new tricks demanded of them by social media. And internet services cost too much for those in difficult financial circumstances, not to mention the requirement of owning a computer, tablet or a smartphone.
But where impediments to access exist, for whatever reason, we must find ways to overcome them in order to prevent the emergence of a new kind of social injustice, one where people are excluded from what the internet can contribute to our lives.
Businesses in search of new and developing markets need to be aware that social media and snazzy websites will not reach every corner of the globe or even all demographics. For economic as well as social reasons this issue needs to be addressed.