In the comments of my previous post I mentioned the benefits of working out the percentage of people who are on Facebook by location, as this would help support an argument about the ethics of excluding people from such spaces. (If more people are on there, the social cost of opting out becomes greater.) I felt inspired to do a quick calculation of the numbers. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of numbers and tables!
Calculating Australia’s current population
We last held a census on August 9 2011 and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website is a great resource for demographic information. This page helpfully displays census data for the Greater Sydney area, New South Wales and Australia overall, which I will be referring to here.
However, it has been a little over a year since the census and the population will have increased. To address this I will be increasing the values found on that page by 1.4%, the estimated rate of national population increase in 2011 from the previous year as stated on this page. This won’t make my results exact (states and cities increase at different rates, and the past year’s increase may be different to 2011′s), but I think this is close enough for my purposes.
Estimates of the current Australian population by location:
|New South Wales
Factoring in age restrictions
Facebook doesn’t (officially) allow users under the age of 13. Many ignore this, and some are even assisted by their parents in setting up an account. For this brief study I’m going to pretend this (possibly significant?) number of underage users does not exist.
The problem, then, is removing people under 13 from my population results table above so I can compare it with Facebook data. The census statistics page helpfully breaks down the population by age, but includes ranges ’10-14′ and ’15-19′ rather than having a convenient break between ages 12 and 13. To address this I have used the 2011 totals by location and removed the entire population of under 10s and 3/5 of the 10-14 demographic, and then increased these values by 1.4% as above to estimate the current population.
Revised estimates of current populations to include only those over 13:
|New South Wales
Getting data from Facebook
One thing I love about Facebook is that its advertising page allows you to find interesting demographic data about its users. You need to be logged in first (I used my testing account), but all you need to do is go to the ‘Advertise on Facebook’ page, put in a URL (anything – it doesn’t matter), and then play around with the ‘Choose your audience’ section that appears. For example, if you wanted to work out how many Australian accounts have no declared ‘gender’ (yet another example of interchangeability of terms), you select ‘Australia’ as the location and ‘All’ under ‘Gender’ and it displays the audience size to the right (11,624,680 – this and following values retrieved 24 September 2012). Subtract from this the number of ‘Men’ (5,336,740) and ‘Women’ (6,091,320) users and you find that 196,620 (1.69%) Australian accounts have not succumbed to Facebook’s insistence, since 2008, that they choose a sex/gender. (It’s impossible for new accounts to opt out now, of course.)
However, there are issues with trusting this data. First of all, it isn’t clear how accurate the values displayed are, and – discounting a highly unlikely set of chance results – all values are rounded to 10. But more than that the results rely entirely on the accuracy of user entered data.
The 11.6 million ‘Australia’ Facebook accounts counted here include, among those from legitimate users,
- Accounts of deceased persons
- Abandoned accounts
- Accounts from those who have moved away and not updated the location on their profile
- Additional accounts from those who have multiple accounts
- Accounts from those who are under 13 (which presents a problem for my calculation)
- Fake accounts (like mine)
- Accounts made by others for non-humans such as groups, brands, non-human animals, children (who are human but not operating their own account), etc.
- Closed accounts that are still archived (I have no way of determining whether these are part of the number)
- Anything else … ?
I’ll call those ‘non-legitimate accounts’ for the purposes of this discussion.
In addition to this, the total number does not include Australian users who
- Do not declare their location (for example, I calculated that 5.11% ‘Australia’ Facebook users have not declared a state – it’s unclear how many users choose not to declare a country*)
- Declare another (fictional or real) location
To an extent, items on these two lists cancel each other out, but it’s difficult to argue whether, say, the active number of Australians on Facebook is higher or lower than the 11.6M stated by the advertising page. (Any thoughts?)
For my purposes here I’m simply going to use the data given to me by Facebook, though I freely admit the issues raised here make any conclusions or results problematic.
Population of Australians on Facebook
By refining my Facebook advertising results by choosing the city ‘Sydney’, the state ‘NSW’, and the country ‘Australia’, and comparing them with the results of my earlier tables, I get the following results:
||Estimated population (13+)
||Declared Facebook population
||Percentage on Facebook
|New South Wales
It makes sense that Sydney has a higher percentage of Facebook users than the rest of the state and country, but I’m actually surprised it’s quite that high as I assumed fewer users would go the extra trouble of declaring a city, let alone their state, on their profile. I also don’t know what the earlier Facebook profile interface was like, but I assume it wouldn’t have categorised locations as well as it currently does so many older accounts may say ‘Sydney’ (text field), or one of many locations that are encapsulated within it, rather than ‘Sydney’ as a tagged, searchable category option. Therefore I suspect many may be missing from this 60% total, though that number may be countered by the number of non-legitimate accounts.
In short, what we’ve seen here is how one may use available data from Facebook and the ABS to determine a non-reliable percentage of Facebook users by location.
This and similar studies could be used in arguments regarding the coerciveness of Facebook and how, because of the high prevalence of use within a population, Facebook and similar systems, despite their status as private enterprises who ‘should be able to do whatever they want because it’s their system’, may actually have a responsibility in making their systems accessible to all by removing barriers such as ‘real identity’ requirements. Because such a high percentage of our social engagement now occurs online, and much of it on Facebook, those who are barred from entry lose the ability to meaningfully engage with their communities, both geographic and virtual, to a fair extent. When systems impose marginalisation and society silences diverse voices because they adopt such systems for everyday interaction, ideas stagnate and we lose as a civilisation.
… And other things I won’t go into now.
Of course, if anyone is actually tempted to use my results or method in making these or other arguments, be prepared for others to dispute the numbers. There’s a wide range of uncertainty within the Facebook data that I’ve only just begun to address.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As someone who advocates for profile systems making all fields optional, it makes me happy to recognise the major limitations of this data =)
* If I could be bothered, I could work out the populations of every country, add them together and subtract that from the number of total Facebook users, and then attribute a percentage of this number (relating to the ratio of declared Australian users) to the Australian population … but that could take a while.