Aaah Thanksgiving. It's a time to take a look at your life, think about all the things you take for granted, and take a moment to be thankful for them. For me, I've got a job. I've got a place to live. I have a girlfriend. So there's lots to be grateful for.
Yet there's something else this year, and it comes as a surprise, even to me: I'm thankful for teens leaving Facebook.
Now, I know what you must be thinking: "What kind of curmudgeonly, old-man nonsense is that?" But hear me out. I'm not much older than teenagers, but it's amazing how much we change once we get into our 20's, and 30's and so on. And it's not because they're annoying and sophmoric - though they are - it's really because having less transparency in their lives is probably for their own benefit.
Teens on Facebook
Ok, let's start with the "teens are annoying" thing. You know you think it all the time, but I'm the one who has the guts to say it!
When I'm surrounded by a group of teenagers, they make me feel like I'm about four times their age.
Take, for example, going to a movie that isn't rated R. You run the risk of dealing with teenagers acting like, well, teens often do. That means talking on their phones, texting during the movie or worse, yelling at the screen or at each other. Ugh.
I can barely accept this type of behavior in a five year old, much less a 15 year old. And this is what Facebook has sometimes felt like to me as well.
Back when I first started using it, Facebook still required a university e-mail to sign up, before it became open to high school students in 2005.
Suddenly, every post was "gay" or something even worse than that. References to anything from more than a few years before were dismissed as being old and out of date. And the level of discourse on the site, which was not every high to begin with, fell sharply.
It was a dark, dark time.
But then something wonderful happened: the site was opened up to anyone 13 and older, even those not on a school network, leading to an influx of adults onto the site as well.
And, just as quickly, Facebook was no longer cool.
Once the network started being taken over the parents of those teenagers, the teens began fleeing to other, newer social networks, such as Wanelo, Vine, 4chan and, most importantly, Snapchat.
And the world was righted again.
This is bad news for Facebook...
Now, let's be clear here. This is not good news from Facebook's perspective.
Facebook's Chief Financial officer admitted the problem in a conference call following the company's most recently earnings report, saying, “We did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens."
Investors were spooked by the comment, and the company has been trying to backtrack the comment ever since.
Even earlier this week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg did an interview with AllThingsD, in which she denied there being any problem at all.
"The vast majority of U.S. teens are on Facebook. And the majority of U.S. teens use Facebook almost every day," she said. "One of the challenges we face right now is that we’re a decade old. That means that we’re not the newest. And often, particularly in our space, newer things are shinier and cooler."
Of course Facebook doesn't want to admit that it has a teen problem. Hooking in teens for any social network is important from an advertising perspective. Simply put: this is the demographic advertisers covet, and the more of them that are on the site the more money it can make.
Plus, once a network hooks in young users, it will be more likely to keep them, as they get older.
...but it is good news for adults, and also for teens
When I was in my early 20's, the idea of my mother being on Facebook would have had me running for the hills.
But I'll tell you, since I moved away, it's probably been the best way for her to feel like she is still a part of my life without me having to, you know, talk to her that much (I love you, mom!).
To me, this is what Facebook was always kind of meant to be: instead of the real-time feel of Twitter, Facebook is a network where people, especially adults, can connect and reconnect with each other.
I barely ever use it to add new friends as this point, but I do use it to keep tabs on people I will probably never see again. And teens have no use for that kind of network.
Besides, its probably not a good idea for them to start posting things that will become part of their permanent history at such a young age anyway. What is posted to social media can, unfortunately, follow you around for a long, long time.
So for teens, who will make mistakes, and big ones at that, its probably best to use a service like Snapchat, where anything stupid or offensive that they post will automatically be deleted, no harm done.
Once they start making real connections, though, Facebook would be a good place for them to go. Just not until they learn to, you know, spell things correctly and use good grammar.
Now if they would be so kind as to get off my lawn... I mean newsfeed, I would really appreciate it.
(Image source: http://www2.macleans.ca)