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Americans may be unhappy because of Facebook, but Asians definitely are not

facebook users in Japan 2013

As you know, Facebook has been seeing explosive growth in Asia. I think that’s driven by two things: Asia has the largest young population in the world, and is still growing its internet penetration. It’s a winning combination for Facebook. Facebook’s penetration in the US is over 50 percent already, whereas in Asia, it just broke five percent last year. That means it’s a long time before Facebook will hit the full amount of influence that it has come to have in North America.

Facebook came into being in 2004 and only started hitting its stride in the mid-to-late 2000’s. It’s been around for almost 10 years. It’s seeped into the consciousness of the West. So it’s no wonder that Facebook is slowly seeping out of prominence back in its home country. The allure and novelty is gone and the stark reality of Facebook’s narcissism is shining through. Scientists recently came out with a study conducted in Michigan that came to a startling conclusion:

The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.

In other words, back in the US, Facebook is starting to be a bad thing. Maybe it’s all the baby pictures and self-aggrandizing posts that people keep throwing up. But here in Asia, it’s a different story.

Asians internet usage on Facebook is a whole new world

Facebook users in Asia are carving out a new path. Here are a few interesting case studies that really underline Asia’s unique Facebook use:

  • There are sites like HaiVL in Vietnam that are launching and growing their sites right on the Facebook platform.
  • There are over 100 million Asian Facebook users that are interacting with the platform via feature phones alone.
  • There’s a huge wave of Facebook commerce stores that are popping up across the region. Individuals are getting rich off of selling stuff on Facebook.
  • Selfies and profile pictures are quickly becoming a subtle new form of political protest that we’re seeing in countries like the Philippines; and it’s also happening in Vietnam where people are airing grievances with China.
  • There’s also bizarre government monitoring happening on Facebook in Vietnam and elsehwhere, whereby the police are using Facebook to catch criminals.
  • Lastly, on a cultural note, Asians are generally much more public online than Westerners, who are very protective of their privacy.

All in all, this makes for a particularly different kind of space to the West, where Facebook is one of many websites that people access on their smartphones and websites, and is a very private space. For many Asians, Facebook is the definition of the internet.

Will the novelty of Facebook ever wear off?

Inevitably, Facebook is going to pass its heyday after the growth plateaus. I think that’s a plateau that won’t come for another three to four years. At the same time, it’s being assaulted from all sides by new models like Asia’s many chat apps. In the next few years, we’ll also start to see Asia’s local social media rise up. All these things will contribute to a slow down in Facebook’s growth in Asia. But the real question for me is: will an annoyance with narcissism and the dissatisfaction with life we’re seeing connected to Facebook ever come to Asia?

(Editing by Steven Millward)

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