For many of us, Facebook was an essential part of our teenage and early adult years. Those of us who were really lucky got MySpace instead. But even we can remember a time when Facebook was an essential accessory for any 18 to 35-year-old to have. However, Facebook has faced an exodus of users from this age group over the last few years.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 found that more than 44% of 18 to 29-year-olds had deleted the app from their phone at some point in the last year. Other research has also shown a general upward trend in the average age of a Facebook user.
Social Media’s Image Problem
There are multiple factors behind the decline of Facebook as an indispensable part of young people’s lives. In short, Facebook has had a PR problem for some years now. This reflects the broader image problem that is beginning to affect social media.
Social media has been around long enough that the generation who were teenagers when MySpace came out are now having kids of their own. Many are starting to make decisions about whether their children have access to social media, and to what degree.
More technologically literate parents may well actually abide by the legal age limit to hold a social media account, which is 13 years old. However, there are other reasons why many parents are sceptical of social media. They are passing this message onto their children.
Growing scientific evidence suggests a correlation between social media use and mental health issues, especially amongst teenagers. Parents are becoming increasingly aware of how social media can be used as a weapon by teenagers and younger children. As a result, many are now choosing to caution their children against ever opening a social media account.
Besides being a hotbed for bullying, social media encourages both children and adults to view other people’s lives in the form of highlight reels. Against them, their own lives inevitably come up short. Social media profiles do not tell the whole story, but it is instinctive for us to compare ourselves to our peers. Ultimately, this is detrimental to many people’s mental health.
A Rotten Business Model
With its utopian ad messaging, Facebook pitches itself as an indispensable tool for maintaining connectivity with your friends and family. But ultimately, it a very sophisticated advertising platform. Many people wonder how Facebook makes money, and most are vaguely aware that it involves some combination of advertising and selling data.
But what this means in practice is less well understood. For example, when most people think of selling data, they envisage Facebook literally packaging user data into databases to sell to other people. This wouldn’t get Facebook very far. Once someone had that data, they could simply copy it and use it for whatever they wanted.
To make serious money, Facebook needs to sell access to that data. Organizations that buy access to Facebook data can then process it and use it to perform analytics. But, for the most part, they are not allowed to extract it from Facebook.
Of course, this is Facebook we are talking about. There have been plenty of cases where Facebook has granted businesses access to its data, only for them to transfer it off-site and leave it on an unsecured server.
Facebook uses our data, often collected without permission and containing the most intimate details about our lives, to prop up its advertising platform. With it, the company is able to provide the most sophisticated targeted advertising the world has ever seen.
There is growing public discomfort about the way big tech businesses operate. Social media platforms have a huge influence over our lives and democratic processes; yet, they are profit-driven businesses with the resources of a small country.
Political Interference And Extremism
The 2016 US presidential elections are the most obvious example of how social media can be used to manipulate and interfere with democratic processes. But it is by no means the only one.
With the realization that social media platforms have provided a breeding ground for fake news and disinformation, lots of people are turning their backs on them in principle. Social media platforms care about what keeps users on the site the longest. While there have been some improvements, they are happy to allow propaganda and disinformation in the name of free speech. That argument is beginning to wear thin with more and more people.
Creating Your Own Social Network
Contrary to popular belief, social media existed before MySpace. In fact, one of the first uses of the internet was for creating online communities where likeminded people could come together and discuss a shared interest. These message boards were the progenitors of the social media sites that would follow.
Just as the tools needed to build a website from scratch are now easily accessible, so too are the tools needed to build your own social media network. For example, ning.com provides a streamlined content management system for building a social network.
If you think this sounds like an appealing option for you, then a great source of inspiration is Friend Camp. Friend Camp was set up in 2018 by Darius Kazemi, who describes it as “a Slack channel where you can subscribe and talk to people who are in other Slack groups.” However, the big difference with Friend Camp is that it allows users to customize their groups using open-source software. The servers are also owned by the users, meaning that there are no corporations involved at all.
The modern internet and technology landscape favors bold and original ideas. Who knows, the seed you plant when you create your own social media network could ultimately blossom into something massive. Facebook wasn’t built overnight. It has taken time to establish dominance. Starting your own social network enables you to avoid the usual noise and pitfalls that come from having millions or billions of users.