On Feb. 2, when Meta Platforms reported Facebook’s first quarterly decline in daily users, the financial chief identified higher mobile data costs as a unique obstacle slowing growth in India’s largest market.
On the same day, the US tech group posted the findings of its own investigation into Facebook’s activities in India to an internal employee forum. The study, conducted over the two years to the end of 2021, revealed several issues.
Many women have shunned the male-dominated social network because of concerns about their safety and privacy, according to the Meta study, which has not been previously reported.
“Content safety concerns and unwanted contact are hindering women’s use of FB,” said the study, reviewed by Reuters, as it outlines the platform’s key challenges.
“Meta cannot succeed in India while leaving women behind.”
Other obstacles included nude content, perceived complexity of app design, local language and literacy barriers and a lack of appeal among internet users seeking video content, according to the study, which was based on surveys of tens of thousands of people and internal user data.
Barriers to growth in India included nude content, perceived complexity of app design, local language and literacy barriers.REUTERS
Mark Zuckerberg’s growth on Facebook began to stabilize last year, when it added a few million users in a six-month span in the country of about 1.4 billion people, lagging significantly behind sister apps WhatsApp and Instagram, according to the report. , which noted, “FB has grown more slowly than the Internet and other apps.”
A Meta spokesperson, who was contacted about the investigation, said the company regularly invested in internal research to better understand the value of its products and help identify ways to improve.
“But it is misleading to characterize 7-month-old research as an accurate or comprehensive representation of the state of our company in India,” she added.
Nevertheless, the main Indian issues described in the study were not mentioned by Dave Wehner, Chief Financial Officer of Meta. during a Feb. 2 interview with analysts to discuss results for the last quarter of 2021.
Wehner said Facebook’s user growth in Asia-Pacific and some other areas was hit by competition, plus comparison to previous quarters when COVID resurgence helped user engagement. He identified higher mobile data costs as a “unique” headwind for India.
When asked why the barriers to growth identified by Wehner were different from those identified in the study, the spokesperson pointed to a Meta filing in April, during Q1 earnings, that said Facebook users in India , Bangladesh and Vietnam the top three represented sources of growth in daily active users in March versus a year earlier.
Facebook’s fortunes in India are having a major impact on Meta, which has lost about half its value this year amid a wider tech sell-off and is being scrutinized by investors and analysts fearing growth in potentially high-growth emerging markets is beginning to slow down. to take.
“India has more FB users than any other country,” said the survey, which took the number to nearly 450 million in November, after growing rapidly for much of the past decade.
A spokesperson for Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta said the company regularly invested in internal research to better understand the value of its products.AP
“Teams across the company must explicitly consider their strategic position and growth opportunities in India. Results in India can lead to global results.”
Family does not allow FB
The internal study, a “high-level overview of growth trends” in India, was detailed in a presentation designed to assist Facebook’s researchers and product teams. It said a major problem that Facebook had been trying to solve for years in India, with limited success, was related to “imbalance between men and women.”
Men accounted for 75% of Facebook’s monthly active users in India last year. That compared with 62% of internet users overall in early 2020, the researchers found.
“While there is a gender imbalance in internet use across India, the imbalance among Facebook users is even more pronounced,” the study said, adding that concerns about online safety and societal pressures were among the reasons women were deprived of scared off the platform.
“Negative content is more common in India than in other countries,” the internal report said.REUTERS
The researchers found that 79% of female Facebook users were “concerned about content/photos abuse”, while an estimated 20-30% of users in the largely conservative country had seen nudity on the platform in the past seven days.
India ranked highest globally on the latest statistic; for example, about 10% of surveyed users in the United States and Brazil said they had seen nudity in the past week and less than 20% in Indonesia, according to a survey conducted in August 2021.
“Negative content is more common in India than in other countries,” the internal report said.
Family disapproval — “Family doesn’t allow FB” — was a major reason cited by women for not using Facebook, the study found.
The Meta spokesperson said the online gender inequality was an industry-wide issue and not specific to its platforms.
They said that since 2016, Meta had quadrupled the size of its global team working on safety and security to more than 40,000, and that between January and April of this year, more than 97% of adult nudity and sexual activity content had been removed before someone reported it.
Where do you live?
A research slide showed the struggles of female users and showed a photo of an Indian woman walking in the street wearing a sari covering her head and face, a tradition common in many parts of India.
Next to this image was the report of a woman who said she had received 367 friend requests from strangers, with a series of comments about photos such as ‘very beautiful’, ‘where do you live’, ‘you look good’.
The comments stopped after she used the “locked profile” feature, according to the woman quoted, referring to an option Facebook introduced in India in 2020 that allowed users to restrict viewing of photos and messages to non-friends.
In November, Facebook’s user base in India was 447 million strong, lagging behind the Meta sister apps. WhatsApp had 563 million Indian users. AFP via Getty Images
By June 2021, the feature had been adopted by 34% of female users in India, the internal report said, but more work was needed, with “bold product changes”, to address the issue of Facebook’s low adoption among women.
Facebook has come under criticism from online safety campaigners worldwide for not doing enough to protect women from bullying or harassment. In 2019, the platform said it had a team of people who “just focused on making sure we keep 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, Meta added.
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WhatsApp grabs crown
According to internal research, Facebook’s growth in India started to level off last year. The platform’s main appeal was to connect with friends and family, but non-Facebook users now mainly used the Internet to view photos and videos, the study said.
Its annual growth rate based on May-October 2021 showed it added just 6.6 million users per year, versus WhatsApp’s 71 million and Instagram’s 128 million, according to an internal slide graphically illustrating the slowdown.
In November, Facebook’s user base in India was 447 million strong, lagging behind the Meta sister apps. WhatsApp – which Facebook acquired in 2014 – had 563 million Indian users. Instagram, bought in 2012, had 309 million.
The slowdown contrasts with Facebook’s strong expansion in recent years. In 2014, the platform had fewer than 100 million users in India, a number that doubled in 2017, according to the research.
The Meta spokesperson declined to comment on user numbers and said it did not disclose country-specific data. They said the company was “definitely increasing the exposure of video” on Facebook.
Less educated users are another group that is underrepresented on Facebook according to the survey. The platform faced challenges in meeting the demand for content in India’s many local languages, with many citing the app’s complexity and lack of tutorials as a deterrent.
Between 2017 and 2020, India’s monthly online users as a percentage of the population doubled, boosted by cheaper data plans, but the proportion of internet users who reported using Facebook declined over that period, the study found.
“India is now the country with more Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram accounts than any other country in the world,” an internal statement accompanying the report said. “But continued growth in India faces many challenges.”