What South Africans really do on the Internet

Internet penetration in South Africa has increased substantially over the past three years, according to the Market Research Foundation’s MAPS data overview for 2021 to 2023.

Its data shows that the portion of South Africa’s population accessing the Internet grew from 56% in the first quarter of 2021 to 78% in the fourth quarter of 2023, with spending most of their time browsing the web or social media.

The Market Research Foundation’s MAPS data comes from annual surveys of a sample of the South African population. It interviews women and men aged 15 and older from all races and provinces.

According to its data, the portion of South Africans active on the Internet dropped slightly between Q1 2021 and Q2 2022, from 56% to 51%.

However, there is a significant spike between Q2 and Q3 2022, increasing by 20% from 51% to 71%.

The Market Research Foundation notes that the significant shift is likely attributed to a change in questionnaire targeting.

“Q2 2022-Q4 2023 data reflects significant shifts attributed to increased exposure of questionnaire questions to a broader audience,” it says.

The proportion of the population active on the Internet grew steadily from Q2 2022 onwards, reaching a peak of 79% in Q3 2023 before dropping to 78% in Q4 2023.

The Market Research Foundation also asked interviewees how much time they spend doing various Internet activities per week.

According to the responses, South African Internet users spend more time browsing social media and the Internet than they do playing online games.

In Q3 2023, South Africans spent an average of approximately 17 hours per week browsing social media and 16 hours per week browsing the web.

Respondents said they spend an average of six hours per week playing online games.

While the average amount of time spent browsing social media and the web has increased significantly over the reporting period, the same can’t be said for online gaming.

In Q1 2021, respondents said they spent an average of seven hours per week browsing social media and the web.

By Q1 2022, these figures had grown to an average of 12 hours per week for surfing the web and 11 hours per week on social media.

The numbers continued climbing into the following year, with the average weekly time spent browsing the web reaching 13 hours in Q3 2022 and 16 hours in Q3 and Q4 2023.

However, the respondents started to favour social media use between Q1 and Q2 of 2022, when time spent on social media surpassed time spent browsing the web.

Time spent playing games online is low in comparison, rising from an average of four hours per week in Q1 2021 to seven hours in Q4 2021.

It dropped again after that before reaching a peak of nine hours per week in Q2 2022.

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What South Africans really do on the Internet