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Younger Consumers Warn Facebook: Win Back Our Trust

Sierra Sumner headshotWords by Sierra Sumner
Data & Technology
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Currently within the U.S., an estimated 172 million people use Facebook. While that number may first seem impressive, trouble lies ahead for the social network.

According to Edison Research’s latest study, more people are logging off of Facebook for good. The study concluded there are now 15 million fewer Facebook users when compared to Edison’s 2017 report.

Even more concerning: this decline is heavily concentrated among younger Americans. So why are users, particularly younger ones, leaving Facebook?

Facebook lacks what younger users want

Facebook has experienced this decline for a number of reasons. One challenge is that Facebook has not been able to lure younger users away from its competitors. Facebook has struggled to keep up with the popularity of other sites to which younger people are flocking, including Instagram (which Facebook owns), YouTube and Snapchat, despite implementing similar features that make these other sites popular. An example of this would be Facebook’s “story” option, which is very similar to Snapchat’s and Instagram’s stories – popular as they allow users to add filters, music, texts, emojis and other effects.

While Facebook offers private messaging options through Messenger, it has been late adding the features that Generation Z values. These users are more selective of their public personas, choosing to send messages either privately or send disappearing messages over public posts.

One argument made about Facebook’s tenuous popularity is that the platform lacks appeal for some young users as it tries to cater to all ages and demographics, including a younger person’s family members and other demographics.

On that point, Forrester’s Data Consumer Technographics reported that 34 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. think Facebook is for “old people.” Nevertheless, young users do still value Facebook for creating groups and events, which exemplifies the trend of Gen Z users to segment their media platforms for different purposes. They turn to Instagram for products that influencers showcase and YouTube for how-to videos, rather than turn to one site for everything. From these younger users’ point of view, Facebook is no longer a hub for all social media, but rather a tool for gathering and organizing group events.

The real fear for Facebook is concerns over data protection

Even more concerning for Facebook, Gen Z also values data protection and security more than any other generation, and they are more critical of social media platforms and the content they show. While younger online users are more skeptical of social media, they are not necessarily logging off entirely, but instead are moving around to other platforms.

Case in point: Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research, observed in an interview with MarketPlace Tech: “We only show trace numbers of people leaving social media altogether. They're obviously just transferring their usage. The big gainer, interestingly, is under the same roof as Facebook. It's their co-owned Instagram."

This trend of young people moving toward a co-owned app, Instagram, raises a question about the data protection within this social media company. Will people experience a similar breach of their data on other social media platforms? Could the future be platforms that are more focused on data protection?

While there has been a decline in Facebook users because of the company's struggle to compete with emerging social media platforms, Facebook has also blundered when it comes to perceptions about its trustworthiness. Trust between a company and its consumers helps continue usage, and other benefits include a positive brand perception.

Trustworthiness must be demonstrated through time. It will take time for Facebook to rebuild its credibility, especially with the ongoing critiques of Facebook’s “fake news” epidemic and the lack of regulations over continuing problems like hate speech.

While websites that offer free services to users must generate revenue through advertising and other models, the practice of creating revenue from personal information has been met with criticism about breaches of security and lack of transparency. Facebook’s problems with some of its advertisers have breached the trust of many users, especially younger audiences, who were already shying away from Facebook over its overall lack of appeal.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is one of many instances that sparked outrage among users, causing many to delete their Facebook accounts. TriplePundit originally covered last April whether a Facebook boycott could push the company to transform its data privacy and protection tactics. Will a loss of 15 million users have enough effect?

The news is not all bad for Facebook. Although U.S. users, particularly younger ones, are accessing Facebook less and are even sometimes deleting their accounts altogether, the platform is still gaining users from other demographics. So is this Facebook exodus relevant when compared to Facebook’s growing number of users?

While young American users are leaving Facebook at a steady pace, older users are still opening and using their accounts, and overall, Facebook is increasing in popularity around the globe. These new users may not be the market for which advertisers are currently aiming, but this is still a large consumer base—opening the door for more opportunities, and more challenges down the road as well.

Image credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

Sierra Sumner headshotSierra Sumner

Sierra Sumner is a senior at University of Massachusetts Amherst studying English and Legal Studies. She is a writer with interests spanning numerous topics, including sustainability and travel, consumer impacts, and legal policy. She is also a mentor and editor for other writers at the UMass Writing Center. Sierra is from Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii. 

Read more stories by Sierra Sumner