Facebook and Europe’s hidden borders

February 27th, 2011

In December 2010, Paul Butler, an intern at Facebook, released a visualisation of connections between friends on Facebook around the world.

It was a revealing glance global interactions, and it garnered a lot of attention.

[The high-resolution version of the image is available here.]

Facebook global visualisation

One of the aspects of the visualisation — noted in passing, if at all, at the time — was the influence of European and Cold War history on the contours of the map. Although it was obvious that Russia and China were ‘missing’, subtler differences were also visible (though you might need to squint a bit to see them).

For example, the Inner German border, the former border between East and West Germany, was replicated in the Facebook data. Apart from a bright patch corresponding to Berlin, most of the former GDR is noticeably less enthusiastic about Facebook than their western counterparts.

Facebook and the former East Germany

In contrast, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are very clearly represented in the map; it seems that, in vague keeping with the western stance of the post-soviet Baltic states, they have a clear preference for Zuckerberg’s colossus.

Facebook and the Baltic States

And Serbia, the traditional Russian balkan ally, is also a relative dark patch compared to its neighbours.

Facebook and Serbia

Most obviously, however, the ‘missing’ Russian area actually corresponds more accurately with the borders of the late USSR than with the existing Russian Federation. Facebook essentially stops dead at the borders of Belarus and Ukraine, and doesn’t reappear until we get to South Korea and Japan. Russians, and other post-soviet social networkers, generally use VKontakte and Odnoklassniki to keep in touch (much like how Chinese users flock to RenRen and 51.com), and this is much of the reason for the ‘dark continent’ of Facebook’s visualisation:

Facebook and the former USSR

There are many more political and cultural divides illustrated by the information in this map — let us know if you see any good ones. It’s just a pity that Facebook hasn’t released a higher-resolution version of the image!

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