Is Facebook losing its grip on Africa?

Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Africa may boost Facebook’s drive on the continent in the face of heightened criticism from users and competition from new decentralised platforms in other parts of the world.

The Facebook founder was in Africa for the first time since the inception of his social media platform in 2004 which has more than 120 million users across the continent. Though the platform’s first satellite from his Internet.org initiative was reported destroyed during the visit in an explosion, Zuckerberg was disappointed but not discouraged.

“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well. We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided,” he wrote on his page.

Zuckerberg’s Facebook has been working to bring more users online particularly Africans. Figures on world internet usage in comparison with Africa’s population size suggest that more Africans will go online if they have internet access

Internet World Stats shows about a third of Africa’s 1.1 billion people (16.2% of the world) have access to the internet at a 28.9% penetration rate and 9.2% on a global scale.

Yet, when compared to Asia’s 1.8 billion internet users out of its 4 billion population (55.2% of global population) covering 49.6% of internet users on a global scale, the internet usage growth rate in Africa between 2010 and 2016 is highest all over the world at 7,415.6% with Asia having 1.467.9%.

This portends a better future outlook for Facebook in Africa, especially as debates and proposed actions always trailed issues of censorship, privacy and ownership or control over content being created on its platform globally, particularly in parts of Europe and North America.

However, now that these issues have birthed new decentralised social networks such as SteemIt, Synereo, Akasha diaspora, which basically offer all that Facebook does with the needed solutions to these problems, Facebook’s grip over the African market may be shaken as these new networks gain recognition and grow market dominance in years ahead if their market models work.

They reward users with monetary incentives for published content as some of these platforms operate in an attention economy – on a your-attention-is-not-free basis. Also, unlike Facebook, their systems are developed to be uncontrollable from a central point or be blocked by any centralised power such as governments or Internet service providers as we have seen in parts of Africa during elections.

They are not commercialised like Facebook to be accused of marketing their users’ data to interested advertisers without their real consent.

While the explosion is likely to delay the rollout of a key component of Facebook’s ambitious plan to connect every person on the planet to the Internet, addressing most or all of the issues of criticism may create a stiff competitive environment with time.

Facebook, which has been accused of using its critical infrastructure of democracy for advertisement, may miss out even in Africa if it cannot provide a platform for the exchange of services and value to share and collaborate without anyone in their way.