By Anne Collier
That statement, by Forbes writer David Martin, is and isn’t true, I think. It’s Martin’s explanation for why, as reported last week, “for a second month in a row Facebook is losing users in the US, Britain and Canada” (I think PC Magazine had a better set of explanations, but it’s all speculation; the BBC had Facebook’s response). Of course we know that one of the tasks of adolescence is to push away from one’s parents and become an independent adult, so anything that would try to reverse that would be a problem for a teen, developmentally. So, yes, Mr. Martin, that could be one explanation, but where did you get the idea that teens’ would be the only departures from Facebook? And there are other factors involving parents and teens on FB. What about that interesting finding in a TRUSTe study last fall that more than a third of parents whose kids are on Facebook were actually asked by their kids to join Facebook? It’s also unlikely teens or any other demographic will leave Facebook en masse; if teens are fed up with helicopter parents (though I’m not sure there are as many as 6 million of those in the US), they’ll more likely find new tools for peer-only socializing and keep their Facebook accounts, since FB is now a global platform where “everybody” (or as close to everybody as is possible online, at about 700 million users in every country) can be found, and they value that as well as peer-only socializing.
Besides, just as they did with MySpace back in 2005 and generations before that, teens can always find means for exclusivity or privacy from parents, and they’re used to having those conditions change (parents finding out) and finding better conditions. The Roiworld study Martin cites bears this out. One of my kids, for example, left Facebook for a few months, not for the reason Martin cites but not liking what the experience had come to be for him – as he’d set it up. But he came back because so many friends were there and realized he could make Facebook a different kind of experience for himself, in the way he accepted friends and otherwise used the site. So why are people leaving, if it’s not just a seasonal thing (one of PCMag.com’s explanations)? I don’t know. Maybe the older demographics that are the fastest-growing populations on Facebook (see this) are changing their minds because they want more control over their privacy. Another explanation might be market maturity – or rather maturity of Facebook use (not necessarily its users). As users become more accustomed to FB, they get pickier about the experience, and possibly less tolerant of its foibles – and in the countries where Facebook first established itself, it is probably nearing the saturation point. But it’s unrealistic to blame population ebbs and flows on just on teens.