Did you know that some PH cities have more Facebook users than actual population?

MANILA, Philippines – How many people in the Philippines use Facebook monthly?

If you were a business owner or advertiser on the platform, you’d simply open up Facebook for Business to get the numbers: there were 60 million-70 million active Facebook users in the Philippines per month, as of October 2018.

This, and many other information are readily available through Facebook for Business’ “Audience Insights” tool, which grants access to brands with a page of their own, to their followers’ public information: from age, gender, and relationship status, to educational attainment and even location.

This data is a goldmine for advertisers, who can use it to understand their audience better and to create and release audience-specific targeted ads.

Despite its usefulness, however, it isn’t the most accurate tool.

In his 2017 analysis of Facebook demographics, Simon Kemp noted that “there are more 18-year-old men using Facebook today than there are 18-year-old men living on Earth.”

Kemp proposed 4 possible reasons for anomalies that he spotted that had to do with age: first, that younger users are over-stating their ages to appear over the legal age in their respective countries, and second, that older users are under-stating their ages due to vanity.

The 3rd and 4th reasons have to do with birth years that seemed rounded-up: he hypothesized that people input a birth year that ended in 0 or 5 (1990, 1995, respectively) because they didn’t want to share too much information or because they were fake profiles.

Facebook in the Philippines

Kemp observed Facebook’s numbers globally, but there are inconsistencies in Facebook’s numbers for the Philippines too.

Rappler divided Facebook’s 60 to 70 million monthly active users (MAU) in the Philippines by the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) latest population census from 2015. If their numbers are accurate, then Facebook’s penetration rate in certain cities would have reached somewhere between 100% to 300%.

The PSA’s population census includes people from ages zero to 80 and above. This means that for cities like Iloilo City, each person would easily have two or more accounts. 

Below are the 24 cities in the Philippines that have more than 100% Facebook penetration rates. Low and high estimates of MAU were based on the range that Facebook for Business gave for each city.

Iloilo City has the highest number of Facebook users with 223.22% to 334.83% of the population actively using the social media platform monthly. It's followed by Cebu City (216.78% to 270.97%), Makati City (171.64% to 257.55%), Manila City (224.70% to 252.79%), and Quezon City (170.29% to 204.35%).

 

The PSA does not have 2015 census data on the number of people aged 18 and above per city, but they do have data on the number of females and males aged 18 and above. Facebook for Business disclosed data only for people aged 18 and over.

For the chart below, we derived the number of men and women aged 18 and above on Facebook in the Philippines from their estimated MAU data and from their numbers on age and gender. These were divided by the actual national population of men and women aged 18 and above.

The results showed that a low estimate implies that 99.6% of the female population in the Philippines, aged 18 or higher, uses Facebook. A high estimate would place 116.2% of the over-18 females in the Philippines on the social media platform.

For over-18 males in the Philippines, 92.04% to 107.38% of them are active on Facebook – more or less all of them. 

‘Different data’

There are items on Facebook’s community standards that should be preventing this from happening. The first and most obvious one is that multiple accounts are prohibited.

Another is that Facebook requires all users to be 13 years old or above. Registering for someone under the age of 13 is also a violation of their rules too.

Still, fake accounts exist, and according to Facebook’s numbers, they are in the millions.

Facebook’s community standards disclose that in the last quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, approximately 3% to 4% of their MAU worldwide were fake accounts. Based on the numbers presented in their quarterly financial reports, there were 63.9 million to 85.2 million fake accounts globally in the last quarter of 2017 and 66 million to 88 million in the first quarter of 2018.

In an earlier financial disclosure, Facebook noted that the Philippines has a higher than average number of fake accounts.

All of these were removed, they said – some accounts because users reported them, but most because Facebook had identified them as fake through automatic detection.

Facebook is also aware that the numbers they present on Audience Insights don’t match actual census numbers and say so in a disclaimer on the tool:

"Estimates are based on the placements and targeting criteria you select and include factors such as Facebook user behaviors, user demographics and location data. They're designed to estimate how many people in a given area could see an ad a business might run. They aren't designed to match population or census estimates. Numbers may vary due to performance reasons."

Responding to Rappler’s questions on the discrepancy between their estimates and the PSA’s census, a Facebook spokesperson said:

“As we’ve stated, our reach estimator tool and census data are very different data sets, with different calculation methods, designed to show different results. Our estimator is designed to provide a sense of how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run over the course of a campaign. It wasn’t designed to mirror census data, but rather give marketers an estimate of how to plan their campaigns on Facebook.”

‘Less effective campaigns’

In his analysis, Kemp expressed concern about how Facebook’s inaccurate demographic data could affect advertisers: “As a result, brands relying solely on demographic targeting will be reaching many people who claim to be a certain age, but who, in reality, are not in the brand’s desired audience at all. This will likely result in less effective campaigns, and reduced returns on investment.”

It’s because of this known inaccuracy that businesses and advertisers don’t treat Facebook’s user statistics as 100% true.

Miggy Azurin, a Subject Matter Expert for the Certified Digital Marketer Program, said he uses the Audience Insights tool for reference, but it isn’t something he’d completely depend on. “It's good for a conversation starter but I don't recommend it being the sole basis of your decisions,” he said.

The system is imperfect, said Azurin, based not only on his experience as a digital marketer, but also as a Facebook user.

“I catch so many glitches on the platform. Like for example, sometimes I will see ads in Cebuano. When I check ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ it tells me that the ad is targeting people who are currently in Cebu. This is, of course, not true, because I'm in Manila.”

If Facebook’s numbers are known to be inaccurate – or at least include a number of fake accounts – why do business owners still use them?

Audience Insights, Azurin explained, is a way for Facebook to sell “billboards” on their platform. For an actual billboard, lessors will present numbers like how many people will pass by it and how many impressions a brand can get in effect. The same can be said of Facebook – they’re a business that is marketing adspace to other businesses through reports on Audience Insights.

For Azurin, Facebook’s data is still better than what he could get elsewhere: “They get [their numbers] closer than traditional platforms, but it's not perfect.” – with reports from Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza and CJ Maglunog/Rappler.com