Beyond Free Basics: Facebook, data bundles and Zambia’s social media internet
thomwithoutanh's bookmarks 2016-09-26
What seems to be more crucial to social media penetration in the Zambian context is the sponsored access of social media by mobile phone operators through attractively priced prepaid ‘data bundles’. For example, Zambia’s largest mobile operator, Airtel, offers a ‘social bundle’ which allows users to access social media for an unlimited time over a certain period (e.g. a day, week or month).
The company charges ZMW2 (£0.15) for a daily Facebook bundle and ZMW4 (£0.30) for a daily WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter bundle. Daily packages are popular and enable users to adjust their data spending according to their income that particular week. With a large proportion of Zambians in informal employment, earnings and incomes are often irregular and daily bundles offer a level of flexibility.
As a result of this, the nature of Zambia’s internet is largely determined by social media. SMS and email are increasingly replaced with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Many small to medium-size businesses do not have websites but market their services on easily managed Facebook pages. Given the subsidised nature of Facebook through data bundles, mobile phone users receive a warning that they will incur data charges as soon as they leave Facebook, eg in order to access a hyperlink outside the social media platform. For this reason, most Zambian online news sites post the full content of articles on their Facebook pages rather than hyperlinks to website content which will be more expensive for users to visit.
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