How Facebook Took Over The Internet in Africa

Western users are logging off, but across the continent the social media company is indispensable for everything from running a business to sourcing vaccines.

Across Africa, Facebook is the internet. Businesses and consumers depend heavily on it because access to the app and site are free on many African telecoms networks, meaning you don’t need any phone credit to use it. In 2015, Facebook launched Free Basics, an internet service that gives users credit-free access to the platform. Designed to work on low-cost mobile phones, which make up the vast majority of devices on the continent, it offers a limited format, with no audio, photo and video content. Over the past five years, Free Basics has been rolled out in 32 African countries. Facebook’s ambition does not end there. Where there are no telecoms providers to partner with, or where infrastructure is poor, the company has been developing satellites that can beam internet access to remote areas. This plan, however, was set back in 2016, when a rocket powered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX exploded, destroying an AMOS-6 satellite on board that Facebook had intended to launch and, through it, lease internet connectivity in partnership with the Eutelsat, a French satellite company.

Internet access in Africa is overwhelmingly via mobile phones; only about 8% of African households have a computer, whereas phone ownership hovers at around 50%. Half of mobiles are online, but not via billed plans. The majority of data users are pay as you go, and sometimes own multiple sims to switch between cost-effective plans. When the data they have purchased runs out, Facebook is still there.

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