By the numbers: does Facebook ruin economies?

Is it a coincidence that the countries with economies that are in ruins are those spending the most time on social-networking sites?

Is it a coincidence that the countries with economies that are in ruins are those spending the most time on social-networking sites?

According to Google's DoubleClick AdPlanner, 82.6 per cent of the online Greek population visits Facebook each month, spending more than 28 minutes there. In Australia, devoid of Europe's economic woes, only 75 per cent of us regularly visit Facebook, and we spend just 23 minutes there each time.

To get some idea of the spread of usage levels, I multiplied reach by time spent on the site to produce this comparison chart, with the values indexed against the global average. Italy, Greece and Portugal, three countries that are in danger of defaulting, rank far higher than us hard-working Aussies. The US and the UK, which are both struggling a bit, sit somewhere in between. As for the sensible Germans, Facebook is clearly too frivolous for them, with a reach of just 62 per cent.

(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet Australia)

I am the first to admit that this isn't a piece of in-depth scientific research. It's just a cursory glance at data from Google, based on information gathered from cookies planted on your computer when you weren't looking. But it does make you wonder, doesn't it?

The obvious next question is: if Facebook has the potential to bring down economies, can Twitter bring down governments? That's a harder one, because, of course, some regimes shut access to the internet at the first whiff of trouble. Statistics for Saudi Arabia are fairly telling, though. Compared to the rest of the world, Saudi Twitter reach (17.7 per cent) is almost double the global average, and the same applies to time spent on the site. At the other extreme, Egypt has just 6.8 per cent reach — probably lower now, as Mubarak shuts off access to the internet.

(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet Australia)

If Saudi Arabia's relatively high use of Twitter is because the service is seen as a weapon of choice for those seeking autocratic upheaval, then that's good news for this part of the world. Australia's Twitter use is one third of Saudi Arabia's — news that Julia Gillard will take some comfort in, even if K-Rudd has more than one million followers waiting for the word from their deposed leader.

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