The Facebook Conundrum

I read all kinds of technology articles in my spare time, ranging from those produced by independent writers to large technology columns by journalists with years of experience behind them. I love reading about technology, but there’s one area in which many writers, no matter their experience or education can write truly accurately, and that’s when they discuss technology usage by today’s teenagers.

In this piece, I’d like to shed some (more?) light on how we teenagers use Facebook today. I don’t mean to paint all teenagers with a single brush, but I can base this article on my own experiences and that of my peers.

First of all, let me make this clear: I hate Facebook. As I outlined last month in this tweetstorm, I detest their platform, but I can’t help but deny that it’s become so central to the Internet and to our online relationships. Like many, I use Twitter for news and as a way to read the opinions of strangers I respect, and to share my own. I use Facebook to connect to people I actually know; and that’s my friends and family.

Let’s start with what we still use Facebook for. The main reason most of use Facebook is Messenger; that’s the reason I joined and the reason I still hang on. For many of us involved in projects, small businesses, and other small teams, Facebook Messenger is an essential communication tool. The school newspaper head team comprises of five people, including myself. The utility of Slack isn’t beneficial to a small team like ours, but the larger event-planning committees I’m part of use Slack 1.

Facebook Messenger is also (of course) used for personal reasons. Everyone knows that Snapchat has become more prevalent, but their chat functionality is lackluster, whereas Facebook’s is well-established. If you want to connect to someone — anyone in your network of friends — you use Facebook’s Messenger.

Now for the platform itself: Many of my non-Twitter friends use News Feed as an equivalent to Twitter’s timeline. It’s an algorithmically-curated feed, a mish-mash of content from your friends to pages you like. That includes status updates, ‘news’, freebooted videos, and clickbait articles. And Facebook wants to be the content aggregator of the web…

While this feed generated by robots sounds like a disaster to timeline completionists like myself, no one really minds. While I don’t use News Feed, many of my peers do, and for the same reason I peruse Twitter: it’s still a way to find content from the web when you’re bored, and it’s curated from your friends, pages you’ve liked, and ads, just like Twitter. Let’s just say a lot of people scroll through their News Feeds in class.

The social aspect of Facebook is becoming less and less relevant to much of us these days. When Facebook used to be a way of seeing what your friends are doing, it’s now become less interesting, what with all the grandmas posting recipes and BuzzFeed listicles popping up.

Snapchat is popular because it’s content you actually enjoy. Snapchat doesn’t push unwanted content to you with a News Feed, but by letting you choose what you want to see at all through Stories categorized by your friends, and people you choose to follow. Ultimately, there’s no sense that your feed is becoming too broad and uninteresting. While other reasons are cited (the self-destructing messages, the constrained medium), it’s ultimately that Snapchat is a new platform where monetization, ads2, and the general crumminess of other platforms hasn’t come yet3.

  1. Everyone loves Slack, but it can become a hassle for a smaller team to check Slack. In a team of five, nearly every message is relevant enough to not be applicable to Slack’s “channels” ideology, but in a large team with various divisions (like our school TEDx event), using Slack makes so much more sense. 
  2. Yes, I know all about sponsored stories and all that. Still not as annoying as Facebook. 
  3. Ironically, I don’t use Snapchat anymore. Everyone else loves it, but I don’t find it very useful. 

Also published on Medium.

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