Facebook is America Online in the 1990s (in some parts of the world)

Last week, I heard two different variations of a theme making the claim that Facebook is the internet in differnet parts of the world.

Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, during a discussion on the weaponization of social media in the Philippines:

[in the Philippines] “Facebook is the internet.”

Source: Lawfare podcast

She went on to talk about how 100% of Filipinos are on Facebook.

And then from author and broadcaster Nina Schick during a similarly themed podcast.

“Facebook became the internet in Burma.”

Source: Making Sense podcast

This could just mean that this idea – that Facebook is the internet for other parts of the world is a meme or talking point, but it clicked with me as something that could be true.

It is important to think about the different contexts in which “the internet” exists across different regions/cultures. The internet that I experience is different than the one that you experience, and more so than the one that people living across the globe experience.

This idea made me think about dialing up to America Online in the 1990s. Logging in, being greeted by “You’ve Got Mail” and then choosing a domain to explore – News, Arts & Entertainment, Games – that was “the internet” for me and many others during that time in the United States. Yes, there was a wider “world wide web” that you could go and explore if you were brave and knew how to navigate it, but it was much more comfortable to explore the walled garden of America Online. 

How much time does a user spend on Facebook versus exploring the wider internet? Especially in a place where “Facebook is the internet?”