“Family prohibits the usage of FB” – was a major reason cited by women for not using the social media platform, the study said.
New Delhi: Meta Platforms reported Facebook’s first-ever quarterly fall in daily users on February 2. Its finance chief identified higher mobile data cost as a unique obstacle for slowing growth in India which is its biggest market.
However, the US tech group posted the findings of its research into the social media platform’s business in India on an internal employee forum. The 2-year study revealed other problems.
According to the Meta research, many women distanced themselves from the social network because they were concerned about their safety and privacy.
“Concerns about content safety and unwanted contact impede women’s FB use, “read the study, reviewed by Reuters, as it highlighted the platform’s major challenges.
The study mentioned nudity content, the complexity of the app design, local language, and literacy barriers, and a lack of appeal among internet users seeking video content, as other issues.
Facebook’s growth started shrinking last year when it added a few million users in the space of six months in the country of about 1.4 billion people, significantly lagging sister apps WhatsApp and Instagram.
The study also said that FB’s growth has been slower in comparison to other apps.
According to a Meta spokesperson, the company regularly invested in internal research to better understand the value its products provide and help identify ways to improve.
“Facebook’s user growth in Asia-Pacific and some other areas were hit by competition, plus comparison with prior quarters when COVID resurgences aided user engagement. He identified higher mobile data costs as a unique headwind for India.”, said Meta’s chief financial officer, Dave Wehner.
Responding to why the obstacles to growth identified by Wehner were different from those identified in the research, the spokesperson pointed to a Meta filing in April, during its first-quarter earnings, where it said Facebook users in India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam represented the top three sources of growth in daily active users in March versus a year before.
“India contains more FB users than any other country,” the research said.
The internal study, a “high-level overview of the growth trends” in India, is detailed in a presentation meant to help Facebook’s researchers and product teams. It said that a key problem Facebook had tried to fix for years in India, with limited success, was related to “gender imbalance”.
Men accounted for 75% of Facebook’s monthly active users in India last year. That compared with 62% of internet users more broadly in early 2020, the researchers said.
“While there is a gender imbalance in internet use across India, the imbalance among Facebook users is even more pronounced,” said the study, adding that online safety concerns and societal pressures were among the reasons deterring women from the platform.
The researchers revealed that 79% of female Facebook users had “expressed concern about content/photo misuse”, while 20-30% of overall users were estimated to have seen nudity on the platform within the last seven days in the largely conservative country.
According to a survey conducted in August 2021, India ranked highest globally on the latter metric; around 10% of users surveyed in the United States and Brazil said they had seen nudity in the past week, for example, and under 20% in Indonesia.
The report also claimed, “Negative content is more prevalent in India than in other countries”.
Family disapproval – “Family prohibits the usage of FB” – was a major reason cited by women for not using the social media platform, the study said.
To which, the Meta spokesperson said the online gender imbalance was an industry-wide problem and not specific to its platforms.
They said that since 2016, Meta had quadrupled the size of the global team working on safety and security to over 40,000 and that between January and April this year, more than 97% of adult nudity and sexual activity content was removed before someone reported it.
Depicting the struggles of women users, one research slide showed a picture of an Indian woman walking on a street wearing a saree with which she covered her head and face.
Next to this image was the account of a woman who said she had received 367 friend requests from strangers, with a string of comments on photos like “very beautiful”, “where do you live”, “you look good”.
The comments stopped after she used the “locked profile” feature, the woman said, referring to an option Facebook introduced in 2020 in India allowing users to restrict viewing of pictures and posts to non-friends.
By June 2021, 34% of women in India had adopted the feature, said the internal report, but more work was needed, with “bold product changes”, to address the problem of low uptake of Facebook among women.
Facebook has attracted criticism across the world globally from online safety campaigners for not doing enough to safeguard women from bullying or harassment. In 2019, the platform said it had a team of people focusing “just on making sure we are keeping women safe”, using technology tools to remove content deemed unsafe.
The Meta spokesperson said it had launched a Women’s Safety Hub and other privacy features such as a profanity filter to help female users in India stay safe online. Since 2021, more than 45% of Facebook Groups in India related to entrepreneurship have been created by women.
According to internal research, Facebook’s growth in India began to level off last year, the platform’s main appeal has been to connect with friends and family, but non-Facebook users were primarily now using the internet to see pictures and videos.
Its annualized growth rate based on May-October 2021 showed it was adding just 6.6 million users per year, in comparison to WhatsApp’s 71 million and Instagram’s 128 million.
By November, Facebook’s user base in India was 447 million strong, lagging behind its Meta sister apps. WhatsApp – which Facebook acquired in 2014 – had 563 million Indian users. Instagram, bought in 2012, had 309 million.
The Research says, the decline stands in contrast to Facebook’s strong expansion in past years. In 2014, the platform had fewer than 100 million users in India, a number that doubled by 2017.
However, the exact numbers in India could not be confirmed because the Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the user numbers, saying it didn’t disclose country-specific data. They said the company was “definitely increasing the prominence of video” on Facebook.
The research further said, Lower-educated users, are another group that is underrepresented on Facebook. The platform faced challenges in meeting demand for content in India’s many local languages, while many people cited the app’s complexity and lack of tutorials as deterrents.
During 2017 and 2020, India’s monthly online users as a share of the population doubled, boosted by cheaper data plans, but the share of internet users who reported they used Facebook declined during that period, the study revealed.
Stressing the fact that India has the highest number of users on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, the report said, “India is now the country with more FB, WhatsApp, and Instagram accounts than any other country in the world.”
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