It's a familiar and worrisome refrain for Facebook — that the company's core user base is supposedly getting older and the next generation just isn't interested in joining the social network anymore.
Now the preliminary results from a multi-country, European Union-funded study of social media suggest Mark Zuckerberg and Co. really should be as worried as all that. Older teens in the United Kingdom "are turning away in their droves" from Facebook "and adopting other social networks instead," Daniel Miller, professor of material culture at University College London (UCL), wrote in a blog post last week.
Miller, the lead anthropologist on the research team conducting the ongoing Global Social Media Impact Study by the UCL Social Networking Sites & Social Science Research Project, went on to say that Facebook "is basically dead and buried" among UK youth.
Researchers with the project are interviewing people about their social media use over 15 months in simultaneously conducted ethnographic studies in eight countries. While the project is still in its fieldwork stage, Miller and his colleagues have teased out some early findings from their research with 16-18 year olds.
"Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things," Miller said.
What are some of those alternative social media platforms young people are opting to use over Facebook?
Miller named "four new contenders" for UK teen traffic—Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.
Facebook's appeal to younger social media users is a big part of the study, but it's not the only one. Another researcher with the project, Răzvan Nicolescu, this week commented on the team's findings around European attitudes towards privacy on social media platforms.
"The questionnaires we applied this summer in our Italian fieldsite showed that around 40 per cent of respondents who were on Facebook had never changed their privacy settings, which means their profiles were public," Nicolescu said in a post on the project's official blog.
"At the same time, more than 80 per cent responded they were not concerned or did not care if an individual or an organization would use their personal data available on the platform."
Nicolescu called the percentage of Italian social media users who had a seemingly blasé attitude towards their privacy "much higher than I expected." What's more, the researcher described the Italian indifference to privacy as "relatively high when compared to similar data collected from other fieldsites in the project" —which may be cause for hope at Facebook headquarters.
Facebook may be "so uncool... it's morphing into a different beast" among the youth of the UK, as Miller put it. But perhaps young people in the seven other European countries being studied don't share that sentiment?
We'll have to wait for the full results of the study to find out. In the meantime, Facebook can at least take some solace in the fact that one of its own properties, Instagram, is among the platforms which have "stolen the hearts of Facebook exiles" in the UK, Miller noted.
The new study follows research earlier this year that suggested that UK social media use is remaining constant while overall Internet use is growing.