Last year, the average consumer spent 38 minutes per day on Facebook, and that number will remain unchanged this year, before falling to 37 minutes next year. While some of this is attributable to loss of younger adult users, fairness also dictates that we recognize that Facebook invited this shift by emphasizing “time well spent” in place of clickbait. It’s hardly fair to fault the platform for losing a couple of minutes over a couple of years when the whole point of its shift is to emphasize (what it considers to be) quality over quantity.
Mark Zuckeberg himself seems determined to imitate the persona that partially imitates him on the new season of Black Mirror, Topher Grace’s character Billy Bauer, whose disillusionment with his own creation, the “Persona” platform, is exacerbated by the psychotic break of a user of the platform. Zuckerberg recently wrote an essay of over 3000 words explaining his plan to change Facebook “from a boisterous global town square into an intimate living room,” as the Washington Post put it. The new platform will emphasize private and small-group interactions, removing context and incentives for mass-manipulation and random bullying. Like his Black Mirror counterpart, Zuckerberg seems concerned that his once-progressive idea has become regressive and dangerous. He seems willing to sacrifice the bottom line to correct course.
But to be fair, the bottom line isn’t looking great. Facebook is losing teens at a rate not explainable by its own format changes. While it still has 2.3 billion users (and so it’s crazy to talk about the company coming anywhere close to tanking), it’s feasible to envision a scenario where the platform’s current ruling status is unseated.
But whether bottom line panic or crisis of conscience, the moves are sparked by a perception of “continued breaches of user trust” and the fact remains that fewer people are on the platform, and for less time. And in many ways Facebook is like the once-beloved celebrity that has worn out its welcome. Sparked by the suicide of 14 year-old Molly Russell in 2014, British health Matt Hancock just recently “warned social media firms that they will face legislation if they don’t do a better job of policing the posts made on their platforms.”
Yayit Thakker, in Data Driven Investor, attributes this shift by Facebook to the same consciousness and generational shifts responsible for a new egalitarian political consciousness. “As a generation, we have used our creativity to build and support infectious ideas that have resulted in some of the greatest organizations never seen before, like Google and Facebook,” but “this new kind of power can also be abused — usually without even our realizing it.” Young people seem not to mind tearing it down and rebuilding it if things aren’t working out. Zuckerberg, who isn’t so young anymore, really, seems to want to follow their example. He could do worse.