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Facebook becomes SA’s national platform

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The latest South African social media research shows Facebook becoming a proxy for the adult population, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When almost a third of the population is taking part in conversations and other activity in the same environment, it is clear that we are seeing a shift in the way people interact and socialise.

The SA Social Media Landscape 2018 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx and media monitoring organisation Ornico, shows that Facebook now being used by 29% of the population.

No less than 16-million South Africans now use Facebook, up from 14-million in 2016. And a massive 14-million of these use cellphones or tablets for their access. In the past, mobile use of social media was a smartphone-oriented activity, and tended to be focused on the upper income segments of the population.

Now, thanks to stripped down apps like Facebook Lite, which is often zero-rated for data costs by mobile network operators, the platform is spreading through the entire population. Facebook Lite was South Africa’s 5th most downloaded app from the Google Play Store for Android phones in 2017, and that has had a direct impact on both Internet access and Facebook use.

“It’s a tool that is geared towards the dynamics of a market,” says Oresti Patricios, CEO of Ornico. “Once other social networks and even organisations like banks and retailers come to understand the needs of emerging markets, and the limitations of mobile access, we will see this kind of stripped-down app becoming more common.”

In fact, such aps will probably make a far bigger impact on the growth of Internet access than the clumsy attempts operators are making to structure data bundles for low-income users.

A good example of this is Capitec, the only bank in the list of top ten most downloaded apps in South Africa. Both its account and its app provides simple, intuitive choices for consumers, which translates into low costs for both the bank and its customers.

It is no surprise, then, that the app that generates the most noise, Twitter, does not feature in this list. Twitter as an organisation has stagnated from a strategic point of view, and has little concept of the varying user dynamics across the globe. In the United States, it has been like a rabbit caught in the headlights, unable to respond to the threat from most other social networks. Most of its competitors are growing healthily, while Twitter’s American user base has fallen slightly.

Fortunately for Twitter, it is still growing outside the USA, so those new uses are balancing the American losses, so that the platform is maintaining its user numbers.

The international trend is reflected in South Africa, where Twitter continues to grow at a slow rate in South Africa. From 7.7-million users in 2016, it has grown slowly to 8-million users this year.

The key to this growth is that Twitter remains the social platform of choice for engaging in public discourse in South Africa. News, debates, celebrity spats and the like draw users in, and they are then able to weigh in with their own opinions. The result is that, even while user growth is slow, user engagement with the platform continues to grow strongly.

The biggest surprise trends in the survey was that the previously fastest growing app in South Africa, photo-sharing network Instagram, has see its growth slow down dramatically. It is now used by 3.8-million South Africans, up from 3.5-million.

On the contrary, the professional network, LinkedIn, has maintained steady growth, up from 5.5-million to 6.1-million, as entrepreneurs and small business employees learn of the same benefits that has drawn in the corporate world in recent years.

The study included a survey of social media use by South Africa’s biggest brands, with 118 participants providing insights into their social media practices, strategies and results.

The survey found significant shifts in each of the platforms used by brands, mostly upward. Facebook is now almost pervasive, in use by 97% of brands, from 91% the year before. Twitter has increased marginally, from 88% to 90%, while LinkedIn and Instagram continued their relentless rises, now both standing at 72%. YouTube has fallen slightly behind them, despite a marginal rise to 68%.

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Declines were reported for Pinterest, Google+, WeChat, WhatsApp and SnapChat.

“The findings underline the lesson that widespread consumer takeup of a platform, as we have seen with WhatsApp in particular, does not lend itself readily to brands communicating with those consumers,” says Patricios.

A similar picture emerged when brands were asked whether they advertised on social media. Facebook is by far the most popular for advertising, at 86% of brands, with Twitter and Instagram in distant second and third place at 45% and 40%. Linked in comes in fourth, on 35%.

Most advertisers believe they see a return on investment when they advertise on social media. By far the most unanimous benefit they see is brand awareness, followed by customer insights and brands.

This is hardly surprising, when one considers the extent to which Facebook in particular has become a proxy for the adult population of a country. If it represents almost a third of the total population, it represents almost half of the over-13s in South Africa. As a result, it is now a rival to radio and TV for reaching the broader population.

And it has one massive advantage: that communication is two-way, and can be measured precisely. Don’t be surprised when the social media version of South Africa becomes a more visible and measurable version of the country than the physical version.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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