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Is Facebook losing users? Report says U.S., Canada growth slowing [Updated]

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Facebook's growth is slowing, particularly in the U.S. and Canada, which have both suffered major traffic drops recently, according to a new study.

"Facebook is still growing towards 700 million users, having reached 687 million monthly actives by the start of June," said Eric Eldon of Inside Facebook, a research and marketing group, in a report about the world's most popular social network's Web traffic.

"Most of the new users continue to come from countries that are relatively late in adopting Facebook, as has been the trend for the past year," Eldon said. "But overall growth has been lower than normal for the second month straight, which is unusual."

The social media giant gained 11.8 million new users worldwide in May, down from 13.9 million new accounts in April, Eldon said. Previous to those two months, Facebook had grown by an average of 20 million new users a month for the last 12 months, he said.

"While there have been a few months that have registered lower growth numbers, they have not been back to back," Eldon said.

The data come by way of estimations from Inside Facebook (which runs the Inside Facebook website with studies and news items directed at developers, journalists and marketers).

Facebook doesn't publicly release its monthly traffic numbers and officials at the Palo Alto company were unavailable for comment Monday morning on the report.

The Inside Facebook study said the network's traffic drop was most pronounced in the U.S., where about 6 million users were lost last month, "falling from 155.2 million at the start of May to 149.4 million at the end of it," Eldon said. "This is the first time the country has lost users in the past year."

Canada also lost 1.52 million users in May, he said.

"Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Norway and Russia all posted losses of more than 100,000," Eldon said. "If these countries -- most of whom had adopted Facebook many years ago -- had not lost users, and instead posted even small gains, Facebook would have had a much more typical month."

The research arm of Inside Facebook -- which is called Inside Facebook Gold -- has found that by the time "Facebook reaches around 50% of the total population in a given country (plus or minus, depending on Internet access rates in that country), growth generally slows to a halt," he said.

To offset losses, Facebook has been able to rely on emerging markets with large populations such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and Mexico, the report said.

"But how much further can it go if it is to reach its goal of 1 billion monthly active users," Eldon asked in his write-up of the study. "At least without getting into China -- a move that as we and many others have noted, could both give it access to hundreds of millions of users and compromise its reputation in the U.S. and many other countries around the world."

[Updated 2:12 p.m.: A Facebook spokeswoman emailed a company statement in response to the Inside Facebook report, which said that the company is happy with its traffic, but didn't address the report or its finidings in name.

"From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions," the statement said. "Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn't designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook. We are very pleased with our growth and with the way people are engaged with Facebook. More than 50% of our active users log on to Facebook on any given day."]

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Facebook is displayed on a laptop computer on May 9 in San Anselmo, Calif. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 
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