The merits of using the internet are undeniable. In present times, when people globally are questioning social media's ability to poison discourse, one can say that the internet is the defining invention of this time. One can communicate in seconds with anyone in the world he wishes. However, if a person actually looks at languages on the internet, they narrate a different story. The digital world has an "English" problem, where the language completely dominates the content that is put on the world wide web.
As of March 2021, English is the most commonly used language online, used by 60.4 per cent of the top 10 million websites. It is also the most spoken language globally, with more than 1.13 billion speakers. In contrast, Chinese is spoken by 14.3 per cent of the world population–over 1.11 billion people—but it's only used by 1.4 per cent of the top 10 million websites.
Russian takes the second position in the ranking due to the significant online presence of Runet, the Russian language community on the internet. In addition, it is also the official language of various countries that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union.
Although English and Russian will likely continue to dominate the digital world, Asian languages have the highest potential for growth in internet usage. With an untapped audience of over one billion people, the share of languages like Chinese and Arabic might grow alongside the region's online population.
English A Dominant Language Among Indian Women
Now, according to a new paper commissioned by Meta (formerly Facebook), English continues to be the dominant language used online by Indian women, but at the same time, it has limited rural women's access to social media.
The paper is written by Bengaluru-based firm Sattva Consulting and titled 'Connect, Collaborate and Create: Women and Social Media During the Pandemic'. Meta had announced the insight earlier this month, and stated that it focuses on how social media has affected women in India during the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited physical interactions and pushed individuals to switch to digital mode, The Print reported.
According to the paper, 91 per cent of women in India use English for online interactions. Only 6 per cent of women users in the country use Hindi, while Bengali is used by 1 per cent.
The insight comes from a Meta tool called Facebook Audience Insights, a feature meant for businesses to improve target content and advertise to users.
The findings come from "secondary research", including sources such as news reports, and research from universities. The results are supported by "select one-on-one interviews" with women who are journalists, domestic workers, online urban entrepreneurs, "urban and rural homemakers", and university students.
Stark Gender Imbalance
The paper notes that India has nearly 500 million internet users. However, there is a "stark gender imbalance in social media usage", where males make up 67 per cent of social media users in the country, while only 33 per cent are women.
It adds that 26 million females started to use the internet two years back in 2019.
The reason women are not using social media or the internet like males is that because fewer women own a smartphone, and are not digitally literate enough to access the internet or use social media platforms.
Rural Women More Affected
The paper notes that these issues impact more women in rural India than in urban areas. "Currently, women from urban areas constitute the major chunk of social media users. Upper-class women in urban areas are more aware of data privacy and cyber security as compared to those from low-income families or rural areas," it says.
"Such women can't read terms and conditions of social media usage, privacy updates and other app updates in English", which restricts them from "meaningfully accessing social media platforms," the paper says.
"I cannot read English. Due to language barriers, I haven't seen the app settings or made a social media profile on my phone. I am not aware of the app policies as they are in English also. It becomes tough for me to sign up on these platforms without taking some help from my family," Poornima, a domestic worker quoted in the paper said.
In this way, women who cannot speak English fluently may also not be able to gain economic benefits from using social media, the paper stated. For example, domestic workers utilised social media platforms to "upskill and diversify their income stream", and stay-at-home women used social media platforms to "develop new skills", it added.