Because social media is more accessible than ever before, some countries and regions access certain networks more than others.
Whether it’s for business, news, or just for fun, people worldwide use social media for a variety of purposes. So what are people looking at?
As of December 2021, Facebook was still the most used social media network globally. Many other networks are lesser-known in the West but are widely utilized throughout the rest of the world.
Connected or unconnected?
In a Global Digital Overview in 2022 from Hootsuite and We Are Social, they found that over 4.95 billion people around the world now use the internet. Globally, more than 5.31 billion people now use mobile phones. And the number of active social media users as of 2022 was 4.62 billion. Nearly 60% of the world’s population is online, but that means just over 40 percent of the world’s total population—roughly 3.2 billion people— remains unconnected to the internet. More than 1 billion of these ‘unconnected’ people live in Southern Asia.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 37 countries from Feb. 16 to May 8, 2017, showed that people in wealthier countries have higher rates of internet use and smartphone ownership. However, among people who use the internet, those in developing countries often turn out to be more likely than their counterparts in advanced economies to use mainstream social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Social data for intelligence (SOCMINT)
The variance worldwide in both connection to the internet and usage of social media really drives home the value of looking at a variety of unique data sources for open-source intelligence gathering. Looking for information on Twitter and YouTube would be of limited use in an area where most people use Sina Weibo, for example.
Asia-Pacific networks are showing increased popularity and volume, and really should be looked at by any intelligence entity looking for context and information from that part of the world.
A report from Statista reported on by Wordstream showed that:
- QQ (a messenger platform owned by Tencent, WeChat’s parent company) is the 7th most popular social network in the world.
- Douyin, the international version of TikTok, sits in the 8th spot.
- Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website, is at number 10.
- Kuaishou, a popular video sharing mobile app, is at number 12.
What does this mean for the Intelligence Community?
The popularity of different social media platforms will fluctuate over time. The available data from these platforms is incredibly diverse and dynamic, with variations in content style, etiquette, data formats, and other technical attributes.
For example, Niger was ranked by The National as having the globe’s ninth-highest terrorist risk.
After being removed from Facebook and Twitter, ISIS in Niger moved to a platform called Rocket Chat, where they use their own servers. Rocket Chat is insulated from outside attacks, so essentially ISIS can manage its own social network. And as Charlie Winter, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London says, “The platform that ISIS will be using in six months’ time might not yet exist.”
This illustrates that using a variety of global data sources is crucial to any intelligence team that needs to stay on top of an increasingly diverse internet threat landscape.
For security and intelligence teams operating on a global scale, understanding how social data is used around the world is essential. This understanding will ensure your team:
- Keeps up to date on new/relevant global social networks
- Knows what to look for on which networks
- Has a sense of cultural context and nuance, for more intelligent information gathering
The most effective way to gather information from global social data sources is to use OSINT tools that aggregate a wide range of data in one intuitive interface.