Facebook maintains that he is not dead. The social network also wants you to know that it’s not just for “old people”, as young people have been saying for years.

Now, with its biggest thorn in its side — TikTok — coming under fire amid growing tensions with China, perhaps Facebook could position itself as a viable alternative.

There’s just one problem: young adults like Devin Walsh have moved on.

“ I don’t even remember the last time I logged on. It must have been years,” said the 24-year-old, who lives in Manhattan and works in public relations.

Instead, she checks Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook parent company Meta, about five or six times a day. Then there’s TikTok, of course, where she spends about an hour a day scrolling, letting the algorithm find things “she didn’t even know she was interested in.”

Devin Walsh can’t imagine a world in which Facebook, which she joined when she was in sixth grade, would once again become an integral part of her life.

“It’s branding, isn’t it? When I think of Facebook, I think of old people, like parents who post photos of their children, random status updates and also people who fight over political issues,” she explained. .

The once popular social media platform, which predated the iPhone, is approaching two decades of existence. For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm in 2004, the app has been inextricably integrated into everyday life — even if it has faded somewhat over the years. years.

Popular and unstoppable

Facebook faces a particularly strange challenge. Today, three billion people consult it every month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And two billion connect every day. However, the social network must still fight to prove its relevance, after two decades of existence.

For younger generations — tweens and teens — this is definitely not the place to be. Without this forward-thinking demographic, Facebook, which remains parent company Meta’s primary source of revenue, risks slipping into the background — utilitarian, but boring, like email.

It wasn’t always like this. For almost a decade, Facebook has been the place to be, a cultural reference, the constantly referenced topic of everyday conversation, which plays the role of late-night television — its foundation even made the subject of a Hollywood film. Its rival, MySpace, launched only a year earlier, quickly became obsolete as people flocked to Facebook. That didn’t help the fate of MySpace, which was sold to News Corp. in 2005.

“ It was this strange combination […] nobody knew how the technology worked, but to have a MySpace, we all had to become mini-coders. It was so stressful,” said 28-year-old Moira Gaynor.

“ It may even be for this reason that Facebook took off. Because compared to MySpace, it was this beautiful, built-in, wonderful area of ​​engagement that we didn’t have before and really craved after struggling with MySpace for so long. »

Positioning himself as a visionary, Mr. Zuckerberg refused to sell Facebook and pushed his company through the mobile revolution. As some rivals emerged — remember Orkut? — they generally died out as Facebook soared, seemingly unstoppable despite scandals over user privacy and failure to adequately tackle hate speech and misinformation. It reached one billion daily users in 2015.

Debra Aho Williamson, an Insider Intelligence analyst who has been following Facebook since its inception, notes that the site’s younger users have dwindled, but don’t see Facebook disappearing, at least not anytime soon.

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

AOL was once mighty too, but its user base has aged and now an AOL email address is little more than a “punch” in a joke about technologically illiterate, middle-aged people.

A transformation in progress

Tom Alison, who is the head of Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg’s title is now CEO of Meta), sounded optimistic when he described the platform’s plans to attract young adults in an interview with The Associated. Press.

“Before, we had a team on Facebook that focused on younger cohorts, or maybe there was a project or two dedicated to finding new ideas,” he said.

“And about two years ago we said no: our entire product line needs to change, evolve and adapt to the needs of young adults. »

He calls it the era of “social discovery”.

“It’s very driven by what we see in the next generation, what they want from social media. […] 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,” he said.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the heart of 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 harness its powerful technology to win back the hearts and eyes of young adults. Short, TikTok-like videos that Facebook and Instagram users are bombarded with when logging into the two apps are also key. And, of course, private messaging.

“What we’re seeing is more and more people wanting to share short videos, discuss them, and we’re starting to bring messaging features back into the app to allow Facebook to be a place to go again. not only do you discover great things about yourself, but you share and discuss them with people,” Mr. Alison said.