Steve Whitford
Steve Whitford

Local Facebook number decline halts

Yes, you read correctly, local Facebook numbers have been dropping until today.

Today is the first day that the number of Facebook users from South Africa stopped declining since January 3. Well it’s probably been longer, according to Tyler Reed, but I only started tracking them after I saw him post a comment on Twitter.

So, in the past week, the number of South Africans on Facebook dropped by 68 120 people or 10,5% to 577 000. The number of people who have chosen to join the South African network have increased steadily by between 2 000 and 3 500 a day to 531 732.

It’s quite a significant drop. There could be any number of reasons for the decrease. First-off, there are continued stories about security vulnerabilities in Facebook, the most recent of which raised concerns about users losing their logon details in phishing attacks. Last year there was a reported breach in which users logged on to find themselves in other people’s inboxes.

The other things that may be causing a drop in numbers is people’s realisation that Facebook is being used by companies to track and profile users. The default settings on Facebook allow users to view all the profile details of someone else on the same network as them. This means that if you join the South African network and don’t change your settings, you share your profile with more than 500 000 people. This realisation, along with Facebook’s launch of its advertising services, targeting specific users and some conspiracy about what Facebook itself may use profile information for, resulted in a number of people I know asking Facebook to delete their profiles.

So who’s leaving? Well, the figures show it’s across the board, but the biggest losses were in the group between 18 and 27 years old, which showed an 11,85% decrease.

Overall, there are still more women (42%) than men (38%), with 20% choosing to not state their gender. The biggest group of users continues to be between 18 and 32 years old, which make up 72% of the local base. Teenagers are next, with people in their mid-30s following closely behind them. There is a substantial drop in figures after age 40, which make up less than 10% of the base.

Last year, social media exploded on to the scene. Blogging took centre stage and social media companies sprung up left right and centre. The drop in Facebook numbers may be the first signs of settling, or at least that people are maturing in their understanding of what the internet is capable of.