Exactly a year ago, the news broke that Facebook had enabled the mass, possibly illegal, collection of people’s information by a rogue researcher who handed that data on to a political consultancy called Cambridge Analytica.
The resulting privacy furore engulfed Facebook, and dragged it into unwelcome debates about election interference, online misinformation, and the monopoly power of online tech giants.
Many thought a privacy scandal of this size would finally bankrupt the public’s trust in the platform, leading to an exodus.
But a year later, Facebook seems to have weathered the storm pretty well in terms of engagement, in part thanks to its earlier bet to acquire photo-sharing network Instagram.
A survey of 18 to 25-year olds commissioned by Business Insider and carried out by British market research startup Streetbees showed that while the majority of them still use Facebook, generally it’s not their platform of choice. When asked which their favourite social media platform was, 36% answered with Instagram. Facebook was second with 26%.
A few of those surveyed said that privacy was a reason they were less inclined to use Facebook, but for most the reasons for abandoning Facebook were much more prosaic. One 19-year old said she was using Facebook less, “because more of my friends use Instagram or WhatsApp now.”
Happily for Facebook, it owns both Instagram and WhatsApp.
Eleven users said Facebook had become “boring,” with one adding that teenagers can’t use it freely because it’s full of family members. “More old people are on it now,” another said simply.
“It’s just not very appealing anymore, older people are using it more and my feed is often clogged up with annoying political posts. I have moved to instagram [sic] so I could focus more on living and food and travel,” said one 25-year old.
A few also took issues with the Facebook app’s look and feel. “Facebook is now very much outdated. There is no new features in it,” wrote one 20-year old. Recurring gripes included the ads on Facebook and well as the number of fake users.
Streetbees’ survey involved 1,235 people across the UK, US, and India, of which 820 fell into the 18-to-25 age group.
Facebook acquired Instagram and 2012, and WhatsApp in 2014. The research highlights that it was, perhaps, a smart move to maintain Instagram’s separate brand identity. There is comparatively little integration between Instagram and Facebook’s app, even six years after the acquisition.
It also might explain why Facebook is less keen than ever to break out user numbers on its individual apps, instead referring to a collective userbase across its “family” of services in financial results.
All the cofounders of Instagram and WhatsApp have now left Facebook — three of them since the Cambridge Analytica Scandal broke. Notably the founders of WhatsApp left after reportedly clashing with Facebook executives over user privacy.
While Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp outwardly maintain distinct brand identies, it’s likely that the trio will become more closely integrated at the back-end now all the acquired founders have left.
Mark Zuckerberg has stated his ambition to knit together the backends of the instant messaging on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
So even the ground Facebook loses, it gains.
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