Use of the Internet and social media continues to increase in developing countries and remains stable in rich countries

In recent years, questions have been raised about the overall benefits of Internet access and the use of social media. Concerned or not, the proportion of people using the Internet or owning a smartphone continues to grow in the developing world and remains high in developed countries.

When it comes to social media use, people in emerging and developing markets are rapidly approaching the levels seen in more advanced economies. Moreover, as the population of advanced economies reaches the upper limits of Internet penetration, the digital divide continues to exist, both within and between countries.

Over the past five years, there has been a steady increase in Internet use among the 19 emerging and developing economies surveyed. Between 2013 and 2014, a median of 42% in these countries said they accessed the Internet at least occasionally or had a smartphone.

By 2017, a median of 64 percent was online. Meanwhile, Internet use among the 17 advanced economies surveyed has remained relatively flat, with a median of 87% in those countries that use the Internet at least occasionally in 2017, similar to the 86% who said this in 2015 or 2016.

A similar story is seen in the use of smartphones. In 2013-2014, about a quarter of people in emerging and developing economies reported owning a smartphone, that is, a mobile phone that can access the Internet and applications. By 2017, that proportion had risen to 42 percent. Among advanced economies, 72% say they have a smartphone by 2017, the same rate as in 2015-16.