The document dump that Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen supplied to a consortium of news publishers, which began publishing a flurry of stories derived from the documents on Monday, revealed, among other things, that Facebook’s leadership has identified a new existential threat to the social networking giant: Old people.
More specifically, the users who remain — now that Facebook usage among young people continues its inexorable decline.
That, in and of itself, is not news. Everyone has kind of snickered for a while now about how your parents and grandparents are the only ones still hanging around Facebook. You know, while the cool kids have all moved on. Having too many old people comprising the core user base, however, is another way of saying that the number of Facebook-Nevers is also growing. Because, yes, there are the young people who’ve left. But there are also the young people who will never try the service at all, bypassing it completely. So it was perhaps with those people in mind that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday shared a huge operational shift in the works at Facebook. One that will see the company “retooling” itself and chasing the approval — and, thus, more usage — from younger adults.
How to fix the Facebook usage decline?
Importantly, as Zuckerberg noted during comments he shared with analysts as part of Facebook’s latest quarterly earnings presentation, this means Facebook no longer “optimizing for older people.”
What might this shift look like? Almost certainly, for one thing, it entails ramping up the prominence of the TikTok copycat feature Reels inside the main Facebook app. Which is the kind of content format that appeals to 18- to 29-year-olds — the very demographic, by the way, that Facebook is now going all-in on. Unfortunately, this is also the kind of thing that puts off older Facebook users who haven’t yet abandoned the site.
🚨Whoa. Major news from Zuckerberg:
He says Facebook moving forward will "retooling" to make "serving young adults the north star, rather than optimizing for older people."
— Says the "shift will take years, not months."
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) October 25, 2021
Might that be the whole point of this shift? A lot of the negative press around Facebook has tended to involve the kinds of content-sharing and news-related posts that young people aren’t involved with as much as older users are. Could Zuck be trying to kill two birds with one stone here? Running off his older users while simultaneously making the service attractive again for younger people?
Prediction: All this shift is going to do is annoy Facebook’s current users. The ones who you’d think Facebook would want to keep happy. While young people, meanwhile, will still avoid this thing like the plague. There is no putting that Facebook usage genie back in the bottle. This is not something that a name change will fix, either.
Also, a postscript: All of you who’ve decided that Haugen’s dissemination of the Facebook documents to the media are going to finally kneecap the company? You all have lost your mind, basically.
Facebook whistleblower 2021
Sure, Haugen has revealed that Facebook’s leadership all the way up to Zuckerberg himself has made some pretty terrible decisions over the years. As well as plenty of morally questionable ones. Zuckerberg’s personal involvement with the company’s acquiescence to a demand from Vietnamese officials that Facebook censor political dissidents is a great example.
I watched some of Haugen’s testimony to UK officials today. And here’s the rub. That thing, the censorship noted above? You can’t help but feel like she and some of Facebook’s other loudest critics want the company to do some of the same thing here at home.
Critics like her can point over and over again to Facebook allowing or amplifying hateful content. Zuck & Co. won’t take sufficient action, their argument goes … with the implication being that the august minds in Washington DC should step in and make the situation all better.
No one with half a brain should be rooting for that outcome. For politicians, that is, to have a greater say over what you see on Facebook. Haugen, however, has given them the perfect excuse to try and grab some of that control.
Meanwhile, let’s end things for now with this ironic tidbit.
I thought I read this morning that the Facebook Papers were “the biggest crisis in the company’s history.” 😂 https://t.co/6OGtK797ag
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) October 25, 2021