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The Way the World Uses the Internet: 6 Things That May Surprise You

Who knew that Brazilians spent so much time online, or that Canadians were so social?


Everyone knows the number one fact about the internet: it’s growing. More people in more places are using it to do more things than ever before, and that’s a trend that applies from Boston to Beijing.

But with about one third of the world’s total population online, there’s a definite difference in the way each part of the planet uses the net. Which country spends the most time online? Where has the highest percentage of internet users signed up to social networks? And who doesn’t — gasp — like Facebook best?

Drawing on the latest data from governments, companies and user polls across 24 countries worldwide, a new report from digital consultancy We Are Social sets out to answer those questions. Here’s what it tells us about how Earth does the internet.

1. Brits have the best Internet penetration

For internet penetration, or the percentage of the total population that’s online, the United Kingdom beats every other country profiled. More than 54 million Brits use the internet, or 87 percent of everyone in the country.

Canada, Germany, South Korea, France, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and the United States all have at least 80 percent of their population online. That puts them way above the worldwide average of 35 percent. At the other end of the scale you’ll find a clutch of African, Southeast Asian and South Asian countries including Nigeria (32 percent), Indonesia (15 percent) and India (12 percent). Those three regions have the lowest internet penetration of any in the world.

Where in all this is China, the country with the highest number of internet users in the world? Well, its 590 million netizens represent less than half (44 percent) of its total population — meaning that the already huge number of Chinese internet users could, theoretically, double.

2. Brazilians spend the most time online

This statistic makes us worry a little for Brazil’s eyes. The country’s internet users spend an average of 6.1 hours per day accessing the web on their computers, and 2.4 hours looking at it on their mobile devices. In comparison, the global average is 4.8 hours of computer internet time, and 2.1 hours via other devices.

South Africans, Indonesians and Mexicans are the next heaviest users, while people in Germany, Japan and South Korea — despite having some of the world’s highest rates of internet penetration — spend the smallest portion of their day online.

3. The United Arab Emirates and Canada are the most social

… if you go by percentage of the population that has social media accounts, that is. (Time spent using those accounts tells a different story — see below.) A whopping 80 percent of people in the UAE actively use the country’s biggest social network (in this case, Facebook) each month. Compare that to a global average of just 26 percent.

If you use a different measure and go by the number of people who said in a recent survey that they use at least one social network, an even higher proportion of Canadian internet users are socialites — 82 percent of them, and 81 percent of netizens in the UAE. The weighted world average by this measure is 39 percent.

And if you were wondering, the most popular social network in both countries is, naturally, Facebook.

4. Argentinians spend the longest socializing online

Altogether, Argentine internet users say they spend the most time on social networks — on average, 4.3 hours per day. That’s compared to a global average of 2.0 hours.

Interestingly, the two countries where the highest percentage of netizens have social media accounts, the United Arab Emirates and Canada, spend significantly less time using them: 3.3 hours per day for people in the UAE and just 2.3 hours for Canadians.

5. Facebook rules the world — except China and Russia

Facebook is the giant squid of the social network world, its tentacles extending pretty much everywhere it’s possible to extend. With 1,184 million registered users worldwide, it dwarfs the reach of Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Tumblr combined. Look at the numbers by country and you’ll see Facebook at the top of the list again and again and again.

With two notable exceptions, that is: China and Russia. That’s no great surprise in China, where Facebook — along with Twitter and Google+, for that matter — are officially blocked. Instead, homegrown social networks including Sina Weibo, Qzone and Youku rule the roost. So big, in fact, are Qzone, its instant messaging version QQ and another Chinese app, WeChat, that each one has more total active users than Twitter boasts worldwide.

In Russia, on the other hand, Facebook is present — it’s just number three to Russian equivalents Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.

6. Japan loves to tweet

Japan is a rarity in that its social network of choice is Twitter. In most other countries profiled, Twitter comes second at best and more often third or fourth. Yet in Japan, it’s top by number of registered users and by number of people who’ve used their account in the past month, it’s level with Facebook.

Twitter says its user growth rate is already higher in Japan than in the United States, a trend it expects to continue. Perhaps because there’s no other language in which 140 characters say so much.