Social Media The World Over: People Connecting Everywhere.

Pew Global Topline Findings

The ever-prolific Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, not surprisingly, found in its latest research that social media is ubiquitous - at least among the young and the wealthier in the 21 countries studied.  Social networking online is spreading fast round the world, and not just in richer, Western countries.  

Some key findings relevant for the work we are doing here at NDI:

  • It's not just about Gangnam style.  Very usefully, Pew Global asks respondents about the content they share online and while music and movies are commonly shared, there is also significant content sharing and discussion about political issues. The survey notes: "Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world. For instance, in Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions." 
  • Social networking is not just popular in rich, Western countries.  The survey found that "there is considerable interest in social networking in low- and middle-income nations. Once people in these countries are online, they generally become involved in social networks at high rates. For instance, the vast majority of internet users in Mexico, Brazil, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and India are using social networking sites."
  • Social networking is for the young.  The Pew research notes that "in every country polled, use of social networking sites varies by age. In 17 of 21 countries, there is a gap of 50 points or more in usage of social networking sites between those younger than 30 and those 50 or older."

Talking Politics Online: Who does and who doesn't?

A little more about political content sharing as we are keenly interested in discussions through social media that increase political awareness, interest, and, ultimately, participation in democratic processes.  It is noteworthy and much recognized by our MENA team that:  "in Arab countries such as Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, social networking sites are also a popular forum for expressing views on politics and community issues. More than seven-in-ten users of social networking sites in these countries have posted about community issues on these sites, and at least six-in-ten have shared their views about politics. Italy and Turkey are the only other countries surveyed where majorities of those who use social networking sites have expressed opinions about community issues (64% and 63%, respectively); most in Turkey also have shared their views on politics on these sites (57%)."

Interestingly, Egyptians also lead in accessing political news on their phones: "Overall, smart phone users in the countries surveyed in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America are less likely to use their phones to gather information, although there are a few exceptions. A majority of smart phone users in India (60%), for example, rely on their mobile phones for information about their job. Egyptians (65%) are particularly likely to search for political news on their cell phones. And the Chinese (48%) are more likely to use their mobile phones to access information about politics than any of the other smart phone activities asked about.

Mobile Phones Redux

Of course, the survey found that mobile phones are ubiquitous. Nothing new here. What is interesting is that Pew went a little further than the usual infographic-hype from *insert your friendly mobile aggregator vendor here*  that touts that there are now more mobile phones than toilets in the world.  Pew Global asked, for instance, how often users tex tan, more usefully, what content they access and share on their phones. 

They found that texting is hugely popular in some countries, less so in others:  "At least two-thirds of cell-phone owners in 17 countries say they frequently text, including 93% in Mexico and 90% in Lebanon. Turks (60%), Germans (58%), Indians (42%) and Pakistanis (36%) are less likely to send text messages." It is noteworthy that mobile voice services are incredibly cheap in India and Pakistan while literacy rates are relatively high. We are not sure about why the Turks and the Germans are relatively text-averse, however.  

Pew Global also asked about  cell phone photos: 

"Taking pictures or videos with cell phones is somewhat less popular. The Japanese (79%), Mexicans (70%), Americans (67%) and Spanish (67%) are the most likely to regularly use their phones to take a picture or video, while roughly six-in-ten or fewer say the same in the other 17 countries surveyed. Pakistanis (13%) are the least likely to use their mobile phones for such a purpose."

Lastly, Internet access on mobile phones is still low, despite greater access and decreasing prices for mobile data services:

"Few cell phone users access the internet on their phones. In 18 of the countries surveyed, fewer than four-in-ten say they regularly use their mobile phone to access the internet. The British (52%), Japanese (51%) and Americans (51%) are most likely to do so." 

Money and education are the key factors here: "In 14 countries, respondents with a college education are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those without a college degree to access the internet on their mobile phones. The education gap is particularly large in China (+47), Turkey (+36), Egypt (+32) and Lebanon (+31)."

Access to social networks via mobile also varies widely by country: "In 12 countries, at least six-in-ten smart phone users access social networks with their phones. The practice is particularly common in Egypt (79%), Mexico (74%) and Greece (72%). The Japanese (45%) and Chinese (31%), on the other hand, are the least likely to use their phones for connecting with social networks."

And lastly, and not surprisingly, young people love their phones.  The survey found that "the young are considerably more engaged with their cell phones than their elders. There are double-digit age gaps in most countries for all cell phone activities except making calls. For example, in 19 of the 21 countries surveyed, 18-29 year olds are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those age 50 or older to use their cell phone to access the internet. The biggest differences occur in China (+63 points), Japan (+62), Russia (+62) and Britain (+61)."

Much more on the country-by-country data is here: