As promised, I wanted to write about Facebook in Ivory Coast. Having joined Facebook many years back when you needed a university email address from an elite university to open an account, I’ve been around for longer than most. My impression is that my European friends are using FB a lot less (perhaps they’re concerned about their social media image), but in Ivory Coast the FB scene is really dynamic and bustling. Let me explain why.
Firstly, it’s extremely common for Ivorians to add friends who are complete strangers, something Facebook creators seem to want us to avoid. I receive about 40 friendship requests a week, 99% of which are from Ivorians I don’t know. I can’t accept them because my account is already full, but if people look interesting, I’ll add them and every few weeks I organise a cull of FB friends that I don’t know personally and that don’t seem to be doing much interesting.
Why do Ivorians invite people they don’t know? Well, a minority are still online, so you’re still a member of a certain exclusive club. And also Ivory Coast (by and large we’re talking about Abidjan) is small enough to feel that if a fellow Ivorian wants to connect with me, we probably share a fair amount of interests in common already (or at least certain experiences).
What this then creates is a community of FB friends that feels genuine even if most of us have never met. I’ve formed some good friendships (among my best here) with people who I first came across on line, and these people form a sort of central base for the community – and people who join in. If you want to complain about a new advertising campaign, talk about a music track, or break the news that a local celebrity has died, it provides an interesting discussion form and a real community. It also means communities of people with similar interests should be far simpler to form.
I get the sense that Ivorian facebook culture is quite different in this sense from the way things work elsewhere (outside Africa). Perhaps this will change when Facebook membership becomes more widespread and diverse, but for the time being it looks less like a few friends around a table at a restaurant/bar, than the restaurant/bar itself where you have a mix of strangers and friends, but there’s a certain amount of interaction permitted and people can chat to (in some cases chat up) complete strangers. I feel connected to ‘society’ in a way perhaps that I’ve never come across elsewhere.