The FINANCIAL -- Until recently, Coca Cola was the only manmade product with the greatest reach across our planet. No matter the political regime, religion or the distance from the nearest bottling factory, the product would be there, even in countries lacking the most basic infrastructure. However, thanks to new electronic gadgets and increasing internet access– Facebook is taking the lead as the world’s most consumable manmade product.
Georgia is certainly no exception. Coca Cola arrived here right after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has become the #1 soft drink since. Interestingly, rival Pepsi was available under Soviet communism, with a Pepsi bottling factory even located in Georgia (Sukhumi). It wasn’t available in every store and one needed a bit of social capital to enjoy the Soviet made “capitalist” product. While Facebook only arrived some 10 years ago, it now easily beats any heavy smoker in terms of addictiveness and time spent using it.
Nowadays 38% of Georgia’s adult population has a Facebook account and the absolute majority (87%) uses it at least 5 times a week. Over the last 3 years, daily Facebook usage rose from 59% to 68%.
Other Western born social media are less popular in Georgia. Google + maintains around 10% subscription rate and the frequency of usage has increased gradually since 2012, from 64% of users logging on at least 5 times a week to 88% in 2014.
Odnoklasniki, Russia’s own version of Facebook, was launched in 2006 and is the second most popular social network in Georgia (29% among adults). However, it was the dominant platform in Georgia until 2011 when Facebook took a lead.
Size of Linkedin and Twittter users have not changed significantly over the past three years. Both remain at the bottom of the list with staggeringly low figures (less than 5 percent each).
Obviously there are several reasons for social media usage and these vary based on demographics and social or political attitudes. However, like in most countries people use them for self expression and self realization and we have seen the power it holds, especially during recent revolutions and global crisis. Public opinion can be formed on a given issue overnight and due to the speed and reach of social media, it has caught the immediate attention of government.
This is especially true these days, when last Friday, the Tbilisi city court placed ex Mayor Mr. Ugulava in pretrial custody. On July 3, he was detained at the Tbilisi airport on his way to Kiev and charged with additional crimes. I can recall at least these indictments - he was charged with “coercion,” “organizing actions by a group, which violate public order,” embezzlement of large amount of public funds and money laundering into two separate cases. Although, he denies all the charges and feels he is a victim of political persecution, the total amount of cash that prosecutors claim has vaporized exceeds 50 million GEL.
Following his arrest, Facebook has lit up with thousands of posts, some very analytical, others biased or neutral. The temperature will be boiling for another two weeks over Ugalava’s case and not the least important event will happen next Saturday – the second round of local elections in a few cities and the capital city. On Facebook, accusations against the current government and criticism of police and the court (from both United National Movement and the Georgian Dream) are commonplace. Some could be true but there is at least one notable piece of pre election information missing – the fact that no one from government security agencies has approached businesses to “kindly” let go certain employees because they were photographed attending opposition rallies. Under Saakashvili’s presidency and even after the change of power, I have never heard of a single large business apologizing for firing personnel or offering any compensation…