Opinion

Column: Does Facebook really contribute £2.2bn to UK GDP?

What a bizarre story doing the rounds this week concerning a study by Deloitte which suggests Facebook has contributed £2.2bn to UK GDP and supports as many as 35,000 jobs, writes Billy MacInnes.

Numerous sources report comments by Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg at the DLD conference in Munich. "Facebook is about a lot more than sharing pictures or keeping up with friends," she claimed, "increasingly social media means growth and jobs."

She also suggested social media was "particularly valuable for small and medium-sized businesses".

Facebook claimed UK businesses benefited by as much as £1.14bn from using its pages to advertise and grow their companies and this supported up to 18,400 jobs in the UK.

The Deloitte study also claimed the "app economy" supported 7,500 jobs and was worth £467m. In addition, Facebook was responsible for £550m in technology sales (and supported 8,800 jobs) from people that buy devices or sign up for broadband connections to use it.

My first reaction (and my second, third, 16th, 88th, 1000th) is sceptical. For example, how much of that revenue and how many of those jobs would not be there if Facebook didn't exist? Is Deloitte seriously suggesting there would be 35,000 less jobs in the UK without Facebook? Really?

Think about those 8,800 people selling devices and broadband connections, for instance. Are they solely selling things that will connect to Facebook or is that only a very small part of an overall job which already existed before Facebook arrived? Similarly, when it comes to apps, might the 7,500 people also be developing for other platforms, like iOS and Android for instance?

As for the claim concerning how much Facebook advertising is helping businesses to grow, I don't see much evidence of businesses in the UK growing by all that much at the moment. Furthermore, I doubt 18,400 jobs have been created by advertising in Facebook. And if they haven't been created but just supported, I think I'd like a clearer idea of what "supporting" jobs means.

Do you and I support a job if we go into a corner store and buy a chocolate bar? Do we support a job if we buy petrol at a petrol station or a pint at the pub? You could argue that we do but does it really amount to so much in terms of that overall job that we can claim credit for it?

Now, I've known some people who can keep a barman busy for a night and who might have a decent claim to "supporting" his job, but it usually takes quite a lot of us to justify that job's existence. I'd suggest the same is true for Facebook.

  

This was first published in January 2012

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