Teenagers really are over Facebook. In February the social network warned investors that "our younger users ... are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook." And in April the investment bank Piper Jaffray reported that products and services like Tumblr and Twitter were further eroding Facebook's dominance among the Justin Bieber set. But why? In a deep report published on Tuesday, Pew Research explains that teenagers departing the social network's blue confines are looking for something more... real. More authentic. Which, ironically, was the initial draw of Facebook, one of the first social networks to require real names.
Pew shows how Facebook has been slowly colonized by the very forces teens signed up to escape: watchful parents, too-old adults, and "drama" — nasty conversations that would never arise in real life. To contend with these annoying developments, teens aren't deleting their Facebook accounts; they're just using them less and less, spending more time on Twitter and Instagram, where conservations are limited to short-form text, links, and simple photos; or Tumblr, which emphasizes content over consolidated user profiles. Here's how one (anonymous) interviewee put it to Pew during a focus group:
Female (age 15): “I have a Facebook, a Tumblr, and Twitter. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter much. I rather use Tumblr to look for interesting stories. I like Tumblr because I don’t have to present a specific or false image of myself and I don’t have to interact with people I don’t necessarily want to talk to.”
Indeed, teenagers have become acutely aware of how social media alters our understanding of human identity. When asked to discuss Facebook's shortcomings, another pair of teens explained:
Female (age 14): "OK, here's something I want to say. I think Facebook can be fun, but also it's drama central. On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a like, that they wouldn't say in real life."
Male (age 18): “It’s because [Facebook] it's where people post unnecessary pictures and they say unnecessary things, like saying he has a girlfriend, and a girl will go on and tag him in the picture like, me and him in the sun having fun. Why would you do that?”
"Where people post unnecessary pictures and say unnecessary things" is probably not the slogan Facebook was hoping for, especially among such an impressionable demographic. But it's probably music to Marissa Mayer's ears — Yahoo's $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr is being seen as something of a sea change in social media from what The New York Times described in today's paper as a "passive" kind of "social directory," as opposed to, say, Tumblr, one of many sites that have "come up with ways to let people control and generate content and project identity." Because that's, you know, a little bit more real these days.
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