The 'metaverse' now has roughly the same SA population as dating sites

Business Insider SA
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
  • More than 16% of adult South Africans have participated in the metaverse or virtual worlds, according to the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 report.
  • That's the same proportion of South Africans active on online dating sites.
  • But definitions of what the metaverse is, and is not, muddies things on just how invested South Africa is in digital living.
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Half of all adult South Africans are active on social media, and a growing number have started exploring virtual worlds or the "metaverse".

Facebook remains the most popular social media site in South Africa, with 22 million local users having been active on the network in the "past 7 days", according to the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 study released this week by Ornico and World Wide Worx.

This study relies on data compiled by Ask Afrika in its biannual Target Group Index (TGI) survey, interviewing around 30,000 South African adults aged 15 or older living in cities and towns.

While social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok remain the most commonly used, the study revealed that more South Africans are exploring virtual worlds as part of the broader metaverse.

The metaverse is generally thought of as a 3D version of the internet that can include elements of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). Running parallel to the physical world, these virtual spaces allow users to live their digital lives.

And while Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's version of the metaverse is heavily focused on AR and VR to provide a fully immersive experience, the broader definition can include any virtual world where human-controlled avatars interact with each other and digital objects.

While 16.1% of adult South Africans have participated in the "metaverse", its broad definition includes participation in various in-game environments, such as Fortnite and Minecraft, with virtual worlds, according to World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck.

"This number is surprising for another reason. It is very close to the proportion who say they used online dating sites: 16.4%. While this is seen as a mainstream use of the internet, the metaverse is not, yet they are at a similar level of adoption," explained Goldstuck.

"In other words, these are not necessarily people actively entering a virtual world, but the experience of participating in an interactive, immersive environment gives them a greater propensity to enter metaverse alternatives like Second Life, Decentraland, and Ubuntuland."

This growing interest in the metaverse is supported by trends observed on Twitter. The metaverse was mentioned almost 100,000 times over the past year, according to the study, with the vast majority, 86%, expressing neutral sentiments for virtual worlds. Just 9% responded positively to the topic of the metaverse, while 5% had negative perceptions.

The overwhelming neutral sentiment is good for businesses already investing in the metaverse to capitalise on the intrigue without having to compete against negative perceptions.

"Because these are uncharted waters, marketers have the opportunity to take a leading role in influencing, developing, and iterating this area for the betterment of the consumers they serve, rather than being bystanders," said Oresti Patricios, CEO of Ornico, commenting on South Africa's commercial position within the complex and often misunderstood metaverse.

"Many questions still need to be answered, but one thing is certain: The power shift is inevitable and understanding this space relating to brands, content, social media, and creative assets is critical."

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