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Facebook Tops One Billion Users - A Global Tale Of Quirks And Conquest



PARIS - Facebookreached one billion users today. Now that one out of seven people on earth log on, the ubiquitous site has changed habits and affected lives worldwide. Here's a quick look at how a dorm-room startup has become a global social and economic force:

United States
Facebook started in the U.S., of course, at Harvard University in February 2004. As word spread, Mark Zuckerberg and the other founders first allowed other Ivy League students, then those at other prestigious universities, to join in. At the beginning, users could register only with an .edu address. But after teeny-boppers began clamoring to join, roll-out to all high schools came in 2005 much to the chagrin of collegian snobs -- and soon after, parents and grandparents were on-board to really start spoiling the fun.

In spite of the Great Firewall of China, which ostensibly allows no Chinese from the People’s Republic to join Facebook, London research firm GlobalWebIndex found that more than 60 million users there have a Facebook account. “The "Great Firewall" is not as solid as many people think.” The GlobalWebIndex's recent report on Chinese users caused a jump in the prices of Facebook shares of 6.6 percent, the biggest rise since Sept. 12. Overall, the price of the stock has plunged 43 percent since its May 17 market debut, reports Bloomberg News.

Unlike other countries, Russia does not have a huge proportion of Facebook fans among its netizens. Several other social networks compete for Russian web users, and the Russian government even announced in June 2012 that it was planning its own public social network. Russia Today reported that Orthodox priests had started a campaign against Facebook after the website listed two new icons for gay and lesbian partnerships. “Facebook should be blocked in the entire country because it openly popularizes homosexuality among minors,” said an Orthodox leader. Mark Zuckerberg visited Russia this week, however, and was warmly received by television talk show hosts, university students, and Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev.

Iran is notably concerned about Facebook, to the extent of asking visitors to the country if they have Facebook accounts so police can record who their “friends” are, according to Foreign Policy magazine. After the unrest that followed the contested 2009 elections, Facebook was blocked in Iran, along with several other sites, and Tehran is currently pushing its own “Islamic” version of the internet.

The European Union has been prickly about user privacy on Facebook, more so than the more laissez-faire Americans. Facebook’s European headquarters are in Dublin, so the Irish office of the EU’s data protection commission has been assigned the job of dealing with the American company’s many alleged privacy invasions. According to the Irish Times, Facebook has “agreed to turn off or change some features, such as automatic face detection and tag suggestions, in Europe,” and many of the changes that make it easier for all Facebook users to choose their privacy settings have come from EU nudges, complaints and threats.

Facebook is setting up its first non-US server farm in Swedish Lapland, 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, reported Reuters last year. The data center will be as green as possible, using renewable energy sources as it processes all data from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to the U.K. Guardian. Unofficial Facebook blog AllFacebook reported that Swedish law allows warrantless snooping by the state on any data that crosses its borders. That could be a lot of data. In Sweden alone, a study by Gothenburg University recently found, the average Swede logs on to Facebook six times a day.

The Israeli government has been monitoring Facebook to catch female draft dodgers. Women are allowed to avoid the otherwise mandatory two-year service in the army if they sign a declaration that they are Orthodox, whose women are prohibited from the military. So far more than one thousand women have been betrayed by their Facebook profiles, which show them in un-Orthodox activities like partying on Friday evenings, or holding up a menu from a non-kosher restaurant, reported AllFacebook.

A Facebook user in Israel, in reaction to increasingly aggressive talk about war with Iran, started an “Israel loves Iran” Facebook page in March 2012. The page got a great deal of media exposure and currently has more than 80,000 Likes. In only two days recently, more than two million people visited the page, reports the Times of Malta. In response, an Iranian group started an “Iran Loves Israel” page which has also been popular. The two countries have had almost no communication since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

A 16-year-old Dutch girl in Haren forgot to set her Facebook party invitation to private (shouldn’t invitations be private by default, by the way?) and 30,000 people said they would come. Even after the story appeared in the media, 3000 people showed up, where they were met by hundreds of riot police. When it became clear that there was no party, some of the "friends" pelted police with flower pots, bottles and “even a bicycle,” reported Dutch news agency ANP.

India launched an investigation against Facebook and several other Internet companies, including Google and Twitter, in May 2012, asking the companies to remove material that Indians might find offensive. The affair began in December 2011 when a journalist found material online that “offended Indians’ religious sensibilities,” according to Freedom House, an NGO. A judge in the case has been quoted as saying that the companies needed to “develop a mechanism to check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages” or could face being banned from India. Several people were arrested in 2012 for political posts on their Facebook pages.

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