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Social networks and the Facebook phenomenon: a reflection of a country’s modernity?

facebook.JPGWhile some proclaim that the Internet has brought knowledge to within everyone’s reach, there are others who believe that technology has amplified the distance between the rich and the poor, between the digitally literate and the citizens without access to the knowledge that the Internet makes available. Be that as it may, the author believes that social networks like Facebook allow for interaction and the spread of knowledge and access to more information, and they constitute a valuable opportunity to bridge the digital gaps.

(From Santiago) CLEARLY TECHNOLOGICAL ASPECTS ASIDE, the social network (and Facebook [1] in particular) phenomenon can serve as inspiration for a debate on the concentration of the Iberian-American countries’ wealth and the democratization of the networks.

Today more than ever, when the countries should really be concerned with reducing the social gaps through education, this phenomenon could be doing the exact opposite: amplifying the distance between the rich and the poor, between the digitally literate and the citizens without access to the knowledge that the networks and the Internet make available.

While some proclaim that the Internet has brought knowledge to within everyone’s reach, and that it has opened up the world to those who were marginalized, a brief analysis of the recently updated figures can give us another view.

THE ASSIMILATION OF FACEBOOK, BY COUNTRY

If we compare the number of people registered on the social network Facebook in some Iberian-American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Spain), we can see that Mexico is, by far, the country with the most users, with more than 336,000, nearly 50 percent more users than Spain has.

Logically, this figure cannot be considered without taking into account each country’s population, which makes us see usage level from a completely different perspective.

“While we see that Spain’s GDP per capita is more than double Chile’s, their percentages of Facebook users out of the whole population are almost equal” We notice that out of all of the countries analyzed, Spain has the highest user rate, with 0.58 percent of the population registered on this popular social network. It is surprising to observe that Chile, a small country with a geography that does not easily lend itself to network installation, has a percentage very similar to Spain’s, with 0.56 percent of the total population registered on Facebook.

Trailing these two countries from a great distance are: Mexico, followed by Argentina, Peru, and finally, Brazil (as a frame of reference I’d like to point out that in Finland this percentage is 6.7 percent, and that in Sweden 8.7 percent of the population has a Facebook profile).

However, when we compare this data to the cellular phone data, we see that Argentina and Brazil climb much higher in comparison with the rest, which tends to demonstrate that these countries have not promoted networks and technology associated with the Internet at the same intensity that they have done for the cellular phone networks.

THE CASE OF CHILE

There can be discussion as to whether this is the States’ problem or a problem of incentives for the private companies to install the necessary infrastructure, but one clear fact remains: social networks allow for interaction, the expansion of knowledge and access to more information, and those countries that get left behind are going to squander a valuable opportunity to close the historical gaps between social classes and socioeconomic levels that, in a certain way, technology could mitigate (see Table).

 

 

 

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Sources: CIA World Fact Book 2007 and Facebook as of January 28, 2008

“Access to technology and the modernity of the Chilean networks are allowing the social network phenomenon to reach growth rates similar to those of developed countries” These inequities and the lack of a push for technological development are made more evident upon comparing the percentage of the total population that uses Facebook with the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, which due to simple logic should be correlated with the development level of each country.

While we see that Spain’s GDP per capita is more than double Chile’s, their percentages of Facebook users out of the whole population are almost equal, by which we could infer that Chile’s momentum as a country and as a dynamic for development reveals an opportunity to continue growing and move closer to the developed world.

The reverse of this phenomenon can be observed in Argentina with respect to Chile, given that Argentina has a GDP per capita slightly lower than Chile’s, but a percentage of Facebook users much lower than half of what Chile’s is. This could be a display of Argentina’s technological slowness and the cost of its political and social problems of the past few years.

The strength of the Facebook phenomenon in Chile, which has been growing at a steady rate without interruption since the second half of 2007, at the very least allows us to say that Internet activity is very alive, as is reflected in the following graph.

Chile’s Facebook Network. October 2007 – February 2008

 

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Due to this, access to technology and the modernity of the Chilean networks are allowing the social network phenomenon to reach growth rates similar to those of developed countries.

FROM THE VIRTUAL TO THE REAL

Aside from the statistics and percentages that can be calculated, it is unquestionable that the social phenomenon that Facebook has caused is a force that leaders will have to understand in order to continue adapting to the current world.

“Our leaders should ask themselves if they are prepared for this integration of the real and virtual worlds” The offline world is not only a reflection of the online world; they have been intertwining more quickly than the traditional societies (and especially some of their leaders) can handle.

This is how great virtual gatherings end up manifesting themselves in the real world, just like the Facebook group a million voices against FARC – Colombia. In Chile, there have been adolescent gatherings at parties advertised on Facebook that have necessitated the aid of public force in order to disperse the great quantity of young people, who were putting pressure on others in order to be able to attend a house party that was not even supposed to be a big event in the first place.

The presidential pre-candidate Sebastián Piñera [2] has taken advantage of social networks and has created a group of people that breathes life into his Facebook profile. He already has more than 5,000 friends. In contrast, Soledad Alvear [3], another leader that is among one of the standout Chilean politicians, has barely 39 people who support her.

If we look at the Spanish politicians, we find that Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy have also attempted to jump on board, but both have many fewer friends than Piñera in Chile, a country three times smaller than Spain.

It is for this reason that our leaders should ask themselves if they are prepared for this integration of the real and virtual worlds, with the differentiation between the two being nothing more than a fallacy in my opinion. At this point it is one single world, more complex and with more challenges. These worlds that at one point in time were parallel have already stopped being so.