Once cool Facebook may have 3 billion users, but many of them are old

Facebook says it’s not dead. Facebook also wants you to know that it’s not just for “oldies,” as young people have been saying for years.

Now, with its biggest thorn in the side — TikTok — facing increased government scrutiny amid growing U.S.-China tensions, Facebook may be able to position itself as a profitable, home-grown 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’s parent company Meta, about five to six times a day. Then, of course, there’s TikTok, where she spends about an hour each day scrolling and letting the algorithm find things “I didn’t even know I was interested in.”

Walsh can’t imagine a world where Facebook, which she joined in 6th grade, becomes a regular part of her life again.

“That’s the brand, right? When I think of Facebook, I think of, like, sassy, ​​older people, like parents posting pictures of their kids, random status updates, and even people fighting over political issues,” Walsh said, using Gen The Z term for things that are definitely not Cool.

The once-cool social media platform that was born before the iPhone is approaching two decades old. For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm room in 2004, it has become inextricably baked into daily life—even if it has faded somewhat into the background over the years.

Facebook faces a particularly odd challenge. Today, 3 billion people check it every month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And 2 billion log in every day. Yet it is still in a struggle for relevance and its future, after two decades of existence.

For younger generations – those who enrolled in middle school, or those who are now in middle school, it’s definitely not the place to be. Without this trendsetting demographic, Facebook, still main source of income for parent company Meta, risks fading into the background — utilitarian but boring, like email.

It wasn’t always like this. For nearly a decade, Facebook was the place to be, the cultural touchstone, the thing constantly referenced in daily conversations and late-night TV, its founding even the subject of a Hollywood movie. Launched just a year earlier, rival MySpace quickly became obsolete as the cool kids flocked to Facebook. It didn’t help MySpace’s fortunes that it was sold to good old News Corp. 2005.

“It was this weird combination … nobody knew how the technology worked, but to have a MySpace we all had to become mini-coders. It was so stressful,” said Moira Gaynor, 28. “Maybe that’s why Facebook even took momentum. Because compared to MySpace, it was this beautiful, integrated, wonderful area of ​​engagement that we didn’t have before and we really missed it after struggling with MySpace for so long.”

Positioning himself as a visionary, Zuckerberg refused to sell Facebook and steered his company through the mobile revolution. While some rivals emerged – remember Orkut? — They generally disappeared as Facebook took off, seemingly unstoppable despite user privacy scandals and failure to adequately address hate speech and misinformation. It reached one billion daily users in 2015.

Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with Insider Intelligence who has followed Facebook since its early days, notes that the site’s younger users have declined but doesn’t see Facebook going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.

“The fact that we’re talking about Facebook being 20 years old, I think that’s a testament to what Mark developed when he was in college. It’s pretty incredible,” she says. “It’s still a very powerful platform around the world.”

AOL was once powerful too, but its user base has aged and now an aol.com email address is little more than a punchline in a joke about tech-illiterate people of a certain age.

Tom Alison, who serves as the head of Facebook (Zuckerberg’s title is now Meta CEO), sounded optimistic when he described the platform’s plans to attract 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 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 had to change and evolve and adapt to the needs of young adults.”

He calls it an era of “social discovery.”

“It’s very much driven by what we see the next generation demand from social media. The simple way 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 you should know, says Alison.

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 hopes to leverage its powerful technology to win back the hearts and eyeballs of young adults. Reels, the TikTok-like videos that Facebook and Instagram users are bombarded with when they log into both apps, are also key. And, of course, private messages.

“What we’re seeing is that more people want to share reels, discuss reels, and we’re starting to integrate messaging features back into the app to once again allow Facebook to be a place where you not only discover great things that are relevant to you, but you share and discuss them with people,” Alison said.

Facebook has consistently declined to disclose user demographics, which would shed some light on how young adults are faring. But outside researchers say their numbers are declining. The same goes for teenagers – although Facebook appears to have pulled back from actively recruiting teenagers amid concerns about social media’s effects on their mental health.

“Young people often shape the future of communication. I mean, that’s basically how Facebook took off – young people were drawn to it. And we’re seeing it happen with pretty much every social platform that’s come along since Facebook,” Williamson says. This year, Insider estimates that about half of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 12 and 24.

Williamson doesn’t see this trend reversing but notes that Insider’s estimates only go as far as 2026. There is a decline, but it’s slow. That year, the research firm expects about 28% of Facebook’s US users to be between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with nearly 46% for TikTok and 42% for Instagram. The numbers are stronger for teenagers aged 12-17.

“I think the best thing they can do is get away from being a social platform. Like they’ve lost that. But hey, if they want to be the new Yellow Pages, why not?” said Gaynor, who lives in San Diego, California and works in government. “I really like Marketplace. I just moved, so that’s where I got most of my furniture.”

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