With pretty much everyone you know on at least nine social networks these days, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are parts of the world where joining a social network isn’t as easy as it is for the majority of us.
Aside from more general issues of internet access, the reason Facebook isn’t as ubiquitous everywhere as it is in most places, is simply that some people still find that their native language is not supported by the major networks. There is still a fair number of territories whose main language is not yet supported by Facebook, G+, Twitter or LinkedIn.
On the one hand, this is somewhat scary as it suggests that Facebook still has more potential to grow when it does extend language support to these countries. However, it is likely that social networks have some users, using second languages for their profiles, in these countries already – such as Western Africa where French and English are widely spoken. As a result of this, the scope for growth is slightly tempered. Due to legacies of colonialism, much of sub-Saharan Africa – which is linguistically very diverse – is ‘covered’ by virtue of the fact that colonial languages remain widely in use.
Hence the two more developed networks (Facebook and G+) already cover most of the world’s population. The only ones still absent from support are some Caribbean languages, sub-Saharan Africa and a few states where internet access is additionally problematic due to political situations (Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Taiwan, Turkmenistan).
Otherwise, the remaining exemptions are generally covered already: Montenegro for example shares pretty much the same language as Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia – so users there find the network perfectly supports their language in practice, if not ‘officially’.
Ultimately therefore, the conclusion is that – while there remain languages yet to be supported by the major social networks – these are generally spoken in countries where people also often have access to a former colonial language which is supported by the network. While user numbers will certainly increase by extending support to the currently unsupported languages, it is likely that there are already many users currently on the sites via French, English, Spanish etc.
Aside from this, there are some territories which are unsupported that don’t fall into the above categories – i.e. where the main reason for lack of support isn’t low rates of internet access which deem their language of a lower priority for rolling out support to than others (which is why some of the users in Africa for example don’t have native language support) – but instead some political issues usually relative to the country’s disputed status. In these instances, it seems that Facebook’s policy is not to add support to a language which is used by a national group in a contested territory – especially if recognition is likely to annoy a powerful and large party with a vested interest.
This explains (in my mind) why Taiwanese and Tibetan are not supported (China would be very unhappy) – ditto for Basque (Spain). Indeed, it would be interesting to learn how Facebook’s official decision making works in this regard vis-a-vis the politics of adding language support for these contested territories and national groups.
It is something worth keeping an eye on and will be the subject of another post further down the line.