Now, with the biggest thorn in its side — TikTok — facing heightened government scrutiny amid growing tensions between the United States and China, Facebook could, perhaps, position itself as a viable, domestic-bred alternative.
There’s just one problem: young adults like Devin Walsh have moved on.
“I don’t even remember the last time I logged in. It must have been years ago,” said Walsh, 24, who lives in Manhattan and works in public relations.
Instead, she checks Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook parent company Meta, about five or six times a day. Then there’s TikTok, of course, where she spends about an hour each day scrolling, letting the algorithm find things “I didn’t even know I was interested in.”
Walsh can’t imagine a world in which Facebook, which she joined when she was in 6th grade, becomes a regular part of her life again.
“It’s the branding, right? When I think of Facebook, I think ugh, like cheugy, older people, like parents posting pictures of their kids, random status updates and also people fighting about political issues,” Walsh said, using the Gen Z term for things that are definitely not cool.
The once-cool social media platform born before the iPhone is approaching two decades in existence.
For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm room in 2004, it’s been inextricably baked into daily life — even if it’s somewhat faded into the background over the years.
Battle for relevancy
Facebook faces a particularly odd challenge. Today, three billion people check it each month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And two billion log in every day. Yet it still finds itself in a battle for relevancy, and its future, after two decades of existence.
For younger generations — those who signed up in middle school, or those who are now in middle school, it’s decidedly not the place to be. Without this trend-setting demographic, Facebook, still the main source of revenue for parent company Meta, risks fading into the background — utilitarian but boring, like email.
Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with Insider Intelligence who’s followed Facebook since its early days, notes that the site’s younger users have been dwindling but doesn’t see Facebook going anywhere, at least not any time soon.
Tom Alison, who serves as the head of Facebook (Zuckerberg’s title is now Meta chief executive officer), sounded optimistic when he outlined the platform’s plans to lure in young adults in an interview with The Associated Press.
“We used to have a team at Facebook that was focused on younger cohorts, or maybe there was a project or two that was dedicated to coming up with new ideas,” Alison said. “And about two years ago we said no — our entire product line needs to change and evolve and adapt to the needs of the young adults.”
He calls it the era of “social discovery.”
“It’s very much motivated by what we see the next generation wanting from social media. The simple way that I like to describe it is we want Facebook to be the place where you can connect with the people you know, the people you want to know and the people that you should know,” Alison said.
Artificial intelligence is central to this plan.
Just as TikTok uses its AI and algorithm to show people videos they didn’t know they wanted to see, Facebook is hoping to harness its powerful technology to win back the hearts and eyeballs of young adults.
Reels, the TikTok-like videos Facebook and Instagram users are bombarded with when they log into both apps, are also key. And, of course, private messaging.
“What we are seeing is more people wanting to share reels, discuss reels, and we’re starting to integrate messaging features back into the app to again allow Facebook to be a place where not only do you discover great things that are relevant to you, but you share and you discuss those with people,” Alison said. (AP)