The real reason so many teens are ditching Facebook

Plus why young people see value in Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram

by Emma Teitel

Yuriko Nakao / Reuters

In late October, the world’s most popular—and, arguably, secretive—social media company had a rare moment of candour. Facebook’s CFO, David Ebersman, revealed to analysts during a conference call that the social network had seen a decrease of “questionable significance” in usage among teens. This was a scenario tech experts had been predicting for a while, but it was the first time Facebook actually opened up about it. Months before, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had maintained that the theory of teen flight from the site “just isn’t true.” Ebersman revealed otherwise.

With 1.9 billion monthly users, Facebook isn’t in any immediate danger of dissipating into irrelevance, but the fact that its younger users—the demographic that popularized the site to begin with—are spending less time checking their profiles may be a sign of things to come. The behemoth social network could be the Troy of the virtual world: Facebook thinks it’s impervious to threats, but its cockiness, and even its monopoly on adolescent information, may one day founder in the face of more wily, with-it competitors. “It’s very difficult to change trends,” says Tom Smith, founder of the Global Web Index, the world’s largest digital consumer research project. In the next year, he predicts, “We’ll continue to see active [teen Facebook] use decline and see the rise of very targeted apps, as mobile becomes the primary form of Internet [use] among younger groups.”

By targeted apps, Smith means social media platforms such as Instagram (fortuitously, owned by Facebook), WhatsApp and Snapchat (which turned down Facebook’s $3-billion acquisition offer): three massively popular apps developed specifically for mobile devices. It’s obvious, argues Smith, that Facebook was created in the “PC” era, before teens—young teens, in particular—were communicating online primarily via mobile phone. Instagram and Snapchat are photo-centric, a factor that will work in their favour. Saadia Muzaffar, founder of TechGirls Canada, a non-profit aimed at helping girls get involved in science and technology, says the “ephemeral nature” of an app like Snapchat—which enables users to share photos that automatically delete six seconds after being viewed—may resonate more with youth than the “verbose” and permanent nature of Facebook.

Muzaffar sees Facebook’s words-and-pictures platform as a buffer between wordy email and the inevitable rise and reign of visual mobile apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook is a carefully curated personal tabloid; a space your employers are encouraged to browse; a space that allows you to buy Starbucks cards for friends and relatives on their birthdays. Snapchat, and even Twitter, Muzaffar points out, are fleeting. Their limited space and time directives allow for more creativity and danger (a Snapchat photo deletes in a matter of seconds, but there’s always the possibility that its recipient will “screen shoot” it). If Facebook is the mainstream market of self-exploitation on the web, Snapchat is the black market. And the black market is always more interesting.

Beyond disruptive technology, Facebook’s creeping irrelevance among youth may have something to do with sheer perception. Francesca Johnson, a Grade 7 student at Branksome Hall—an independent school for girls in Toronto—isn’t currently allowed by her parents to sign up for Facebook, but she’s not entirely sure she ever will (she uses Instagram instead). Francesca says the site’s dubious privacy settings make her uncomfortable. She recalls one Facebook-heavy social media lecture she heard at school: “They told us a story about how one person said something bad about someone and he didn’t get accepted into college. I don’t want that to happen to me.” Francesca’s older sister, 15-year-old Anna (who prefers Instagram to Facebook, as well), thinks that some youth have moved away from the site, or stopped checking it as frequently, because parent-teacher scare tactics are more effective than we often think. After listening to the kind of social media lecture described by her sister above, Anna says she’s seen classmates “actually go on [Facebook] and change their privacy settings. One or two people even deactivated.”

Of course, Instagram’s privacy settings are no better; in January, the site revised its privacy policy to enable user information-sharing with parent company, Facebook. Still, the Johnson girls are on to something, more broadly speaking. Facebook is like the Marilyn Manson of social media websites; it’s the bogeyman parents and teachers can easily conjure up for horror stories about cyberbullied teens and college grads whose colourful Internet behaviour cost them the job of their dreams. It’s the site most often mentioned in media articles about cyberbullying legislation and “revenge porn.” There is undoubtedly just as much bullying and NSFW (not safe for work) content on Instagram and Snapchat, but Facebook bears the brunt of this narrative—simply because it’s the site most familiar to those doing the fear-mongering. The reality that Facebook is the social network most parents know—and the one most parents are actually on—may prove more damning for the site than new apps and shoddy privacy settings combined. About seven months ago, when Saadia Muzaffar was doing research into the tech patterns of girls between the ages of nine and 12, she began to hear a familiar refrain: “ ‘Our parents use Facebook’, they’d say. ‘It’s not cool.’ ” Sounds like the death knell for something big.




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The real reason so many teens are ditching Facebook

  1. “ ‘Our parents use Facebook’, they’d say. ‘It’s not cool.’ ”

    That’s one thing. Another thing being, as my 13 year old says: “It’s boring.”

    No surprise here. The younger generation will always look for something else.
    As for the privacy on FB (which is an abomination, as far as I’m concerned) or any other social media, I can say, interacting a lot with the younger generation, that they are way savvier than their parents, knowing more about the whats and the hows of the privacy settings and finetuning them with steadfastness.

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • Stay classy!

      • Nice to see the censors are out again.
        Facebook censors, not as hard as Ms. Entitled & crew, but way more than Snapchat, or even Tumblr.

        • Dude, you were being censored for language totally offensive and unnecessary regarding the topic at hand. Not to mention your sexist remarks always directed at Teitel. Go home, quit reading this site when you’re drunk.

        • Actually I dare you to use this type of language at Kinsella’s site. You’re not man enough for that I know.

          • What is Kinsella’s site? A Voice For Manginas?

          • Chicken. Bokbokbokbok. Til I see you over there my point is proven.

          • Tell me what site, other than your fave: Boyculture. You can keep that, sister.

          • Did you actually just use “manginas” in public, dude? Why not just go start a hate group or something? You can foist yourselves upon the world, marching as one, unified by hate of both vaginas (which you openly conflate here with weakness and submission) and of men who’s only sin is that they don’t feel like aligning with whatever boring brand of rehashed 90s anti-P.C. BS you’re peddling this week. Seriously, dude – you and your ilk look like total clowns, fossils, and future hate rally marshals when you wheel out toxic slurs like “manginas” in civil discourse. Pack that schoolyard crap up.

          • Most of your post is obvious projection & submission.
            I thank you for the compliments, any shaming from your ilk is a sign that I am correct.

  3. Since Zuckerberg is already a billionaire, and there are other demographics….this doesn’t matter

    • Yep, he sold it as he know its growth potential had, is or near peek.

      • He didn’t sell it.

        • He sold a major portion of his share on the stock market.

          • He still owns the majority share.

    • Exactly,
      he’s uber-rich because of the “suckers” that bought into this utterly secureless, dangerous crap app., so I don’t think he ever gave-a-shi_.

      • He created a product the world wanted….and still does. And he got rich doing it.

        So?

        • who cares, I don’t use facebook.

          • Then why are you even here?

          • oh I’m just dropping by Macleans now and then to read their articles,…

  4. “……..“They told us a story about how one person said something bad about someone and he didn’t get accepted into college. I don’t want that to happen to me.”……”

    Who didn’t get in? The ‘one person’ or the ‘someone’? The offender or the offended?

    I figger the above quoted Francesca Johnson, the Grade 7 student at Branksome Hall, ain’t gettin’ in neither; not with those linguistic skills or inability to recognise when she’s being manipulated by ‘The Man’. Assuming she means ‘The Man’ with her use of the plural pronoun, ‘They’.

  5. If you stripped idle accounts, eliminated duplicate accounts, deleted scam and fake accounts….Facebook claimed users would not be half the stated amount. Ditto twitter.

    Sort of reminds me of the CB radio days. One day it cool, the next its gone. (showing my age here).

    I doubt facebook will go as one huge good thing, and government hates this, is it allows we the people to organize. I doubt facebook will see the CB radio fate, but isn’t immune to say G+ or another service to replace it. Things change fast on the Internet.

    Our daughter once said BTO is so kewl new group. We said, we grew up on BTO and then BTO was not so kewl. But people still listen to BTO.

  6. Teenagers don’t like Facebook? Sign me up!

  7. may one day founder in the face of more wily… flounder?

  8. Ah I guess I should say something actually relative to the topic at hand, which is I’ve seen first-hand how adults are keeping kids away from Facebook through sheer annoyance/embarrassment. I have two nieces, 14 & 15. About a year after we all “friended” each other one of them made a nasty-ish comment about the other, disclosing a bit of slightly petty revenge for a fight they were having. My “play nice and keep it in the family” instinct took over (should I not have done this? now I’m embarrassed) and I gently scolded her and said something like “all siblings fight, that’s normal, but keep your fights with your sister of off Facebook.” Boom, her activity plummeted, or at least that I’ve since noticed, she probably changed some settings so it’s harder for me to see her posts.

  9. Another case of technology developing and being adopted into mainstream society so quickly we haven’t instituted proper etiquette and usage guidelines. Akin to the rudeness of answering a cellphone call while sitting at the dinner table with others and subjecting them to the one-sided exclusionary conversation instead of either declining the call or excusing yourself from the table. You wouldn’t choose to have a sensitive family discussion at the top of your voice in a restaurant but that, and worse, is exactly what people are doing every day on Facebook. The lack of culture and propriety is apalling!

  10. you mean it’s not becuase of this- his ultimate objective?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjYbl8pAouQ
    some kind of “illuminati/yeeddish screw the security -let’s just rich off all the kids and their Parents’…” motto.
    LoL whats new ?

  11. Nice to see, I quit it years ago, The invasion, promotion and indeed the facilitation of being given access to a persons private life is shameful, and should be illegal, despite the 80 odd pages of legal mumbo jumbo attached to the site.

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