Editorial: Unfriending Facebook

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Facebook is falling the way of the phonebook. Originally, it was so instant and interactive that people were hooked. But, with more and more instant forms of communication and social interaction, such as Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, the compulsion to post regularly is lessening. Strangely, Facebook feels bulky, and increasingly irrelevant. Surely Mark Zuckerberg is aware of Facebook’s diminishing use among younger users. After all, Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion; a year later, Facebook offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion—an offer that was rebuffed.

According to iStrategyLabs, the number of Facebook users in the U.S. aged 13 to 17 fell from about 13 million to under 10 million between 2011 and 2014. The number of users aged 18 to 24 went down by over 3.4 million. Meanwhile, the number of users age 55 and older rocketed, by approximately 12.5 million. As Zach Braff glibly tweeted, “Facebook is the mom jeans of social media.”

The novelty that came with sharing one’s personal life has given way to the reality of lost privacy. All the intrigue was replaced with chronic overshare. This seems obvious, but five to 10 years ago, the trend was more or less the opposite. iStrategyLabs points to the “psychological weight” of maintaining a Facebook profile in light of social and professional stakes, particularly for those coming in and out of relationships. For young people learning to navigate sex, feelings, and love, the additional pressures of everyone you know watching is increasingly undesirable.

Furthermore, Facebook isn’t particularly fun. It breaks down to more or less four things: vaunted email service, image sharer, news source, and invitation centre—all in one. Despite past security failures and controversy over terms of service that include granting transferable licence over posted content to Facebook, many users see Facebook as reliable, safe, and not exciting whatsoever. What BlackBerry was to the iPhone or Android.

Was Facebook ever cool? For a time, Facebook was exclusive and elitist, and in that sense, it determined and reinforced who was cool and why. Apps such as Compare Your Friends or No Mercy were silently swept under the rug as Facebook broadened its user base to include professionals and teenagers. Relationship statuses of looking for “Random Play” or “Whatever I Can Get” disappeared, as Facebook tried to attract users outside of horny university students (and their high-school-age siblings). Facebook may not have ever been sexy, but it was driven almost entirely by sexual tension and hook-up culture, at least during its early years. Now, it’s less one-night-stand-after-a-house-party, and more Thanksgiving dinner with your dorky cousins.

Make no mistake; the cultural impact of Facebook was enormous. It introduced an entirely new vocabulary for communication and was ground zero for 21st-century social media. The frontend of an entire generation came of age in tandem with Facebook. It was a strangely reflexive relationship in which Facebook both shaped and was shaped by the preferences of its users: one simply has to look at all the changes made to Facebook’s layout and features over the last decade.

Now, Facebook has the unenviable task of determining who its core demographic is. Its initial audience is maturing and moving on; teenagers and tastemakers are attracted to less time-consuming and more impermanent platforms; and, those with the most money—parents and grandparents—are effectively driving away the two cohorts Facebook traditionally catered to.

Ultimately, Facebook is uncool not only because it’s getting older, but because we are too.