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Indian Facebook plagued with too much nudity, not enough women representation

Indian Facebook plagued with too much nudity, not enough women representation

When Meta Platforms reported its first quarterly decline in Facebook's daily users, on February 2, its finance chief identified high mobile data costs as a unique obstacle to slowing growth in its largest market, India.

The US tech group posted the findings of its own research into Facebook's business in India on an internal employee forum on the same day. The study, which was conducted over two years until the end of 2021, found different problems.

According to previously unreported meta-research, many women avoid male-dominated social networks because they worry about their safety and privacy.

"Concerns about content safety and unwanted contact impede women's FB use," said the study, reviewed by Reuters, as it detailed the platform's main challenges.

"Meta cannot succeed in India while leaving women behind."

According to the research in which tens of thousands of people were surveyed, along with internal user data, other barriers include nudity content, the complexity of its app design, local language and literacy barriers, and a lack of appeal among Internet users seeking video content.

A Meta spokesperson contacted about the study said the company was regularly investing in research within the app to form a better understanding of the value that is provided by its products and seek ways of improvement.

"But it's misleading to characterize 7-month-old research as an accurate or comprehensive representation of the state of our business in India," they added.

However, META's Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner did not cite the key Indian issues outlined in the research in a February 2 call with analysts to talk about the results for the final quarter of 2021.

Wehner said competition hurt Facebook's user growth in the Asia-Pacific and some other regions and compared that to previous quarters where the Covid resurgence helped boost user engagement. For India, he identified high mobile data costs as a "unique" headwind.

When asked why the barriers to growth found by Wehner differed from those found in research, the spokesperson pointed to a Meta filing in April on its first-quarter earnings, where Facebook users in India, Bangladesh and Vietnam represented the top three sources of growth in daily active users in March compared to a year ago.

"India contains more FB users than any other country," said the research, putting the number at almost 450 million as of November, after growing rapidly over the last decade.

"Teams across the company should explicitly consider their strategic position and growth opportunities in India. Outcomes in India could drive global results."

Family doesn't allow Facebook

The internal study titled "high-level overview of the growth trends" in India was detailed in a presentation that was meant to assist Facebook's researchers and product teams. The study mentions "gender imbalance as the main issue that Facebook endeavoured to correct for years in India but had limited success.

Last year, 75 per cent of Facebook's monthly active users in India were men. This was compared to the 62% of Internet users at the beginning of 2020, according to the researchers.

"While there is a gender imbalance in internet use across India, the imbalance among Facebook users is even more pronounced," said the study, adding that

Women were kept outside the platform mainly due to safety concerns online as well as pressures from society.

79% of female Facebook users "expressed concern about content/photo misuse", while 20-30% of users in the conservative country are estimated to have seen nudity on the platform in the past seven days.

On the latter metric, India ranks highest worldwide; In the United States and Brazil, about 10% of users surveyed said they had seen nudity in the past week, compared to less than 20% in Indonesia, for example, according to an August 2021 survey.

"Negative content is more prevalent in India than in other countries," said the internal report.

One of the main reasons cited by women for not using the site is disapproval from family — "family doesn't allow FB".

A Meta spokesperson said that the imbalances in gender are not only seen in this platform but are rather an industry-wide problem.

Since 2016, Meta has quadrupled the size of its global safety and security team to more than 40,000, and between January and April this year, more than 97 per cent of adult nudity and sexual activity content was removed before anyone reported it, they said.

Where do you live?

A research slide depicting the difficulties of female users showed an image of an Indian woman walking down the street wearing a sari covering her head and face.

Next to this was the account of a woman who said she had received 367 friend requests from strangers, with comments such as "very beautiful", "where do you live" and "you look good".

Comments ceased after using the "locked profile" feature, referring to an option introduced by Facebook in India in 2020, which allows users to restrict the viewing of images and posts by non-friends.

As of June 2021, the internal report said 34% of female users in India had adopted the feature, but said more work is needed with "bold product changes" to look into Facebook's low popularity among women, according to a Reuters report.

Facebook has faced the backlash of online safety campaigners for failing to protect women from bullying or harassment. In 2019, the platform said it has a group of people focused "just on making sure we are keeping women safe" by the use of technology tools to delete content it deems unsafe.

A Meta spokesperson said Women's Safety Hub was launched by it and other privacy features such as an obscenity filter to assist female users in India stay safe online. Meta added that as of 2021, more than 45 per cent of Facebook groups in India related to entrepreneurship were created by women.

WhatsApp grabs grown

According to internal research, Facebook's growth in India started to taper off last year. The main appeal of the platform is to connect with friends and family, but research suggests that non-Facebook users mainly now use the internet to view pictures and videos.

An annual growth rate based on May-October 2021, which adds 6.6 million users annually, compared to WhatsApp's 71 million and Instagram's 128 million, according to an internal slide, graphically illustrates the slowdown.

Facebook's user base in India had grown to 447 million by November, behind its Meta sister apps. Acquired by Facebook in 2014, WhatsApp had 563 million Indian users. Bought in 2012, Instagram had 309 million.

This slowdown was in contrast to the strong expansion shown by Facebook in recent years. The platform had less than 100 million users in India in 2014, which doubled by 2017, according to research.

A Meta spokesman declined to talk about the numbers of users, saying country-specific data could not be disclosed. They added that the company is "definitely increasing the prominence of video" on Facebook.

According to the research, low-educated users are another underrepresented group on Facebook. The platform has faced challenges in meeting the demand for content in India's many regional languages, while many have cited the app's complexity and lack of tutorials as obstacles.

"India is now the country with more Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram accounts than any other country in the world," said an internal post accompanying the report. "But continued growth in India faces many challenges."

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