It seems a spectacular collapse. Or at least a perception of one, as people flow away from Facebook. CNBC reports that a study found that 44 percent of Facebook users between 18 to 29 deleted the Facebook app from their phones in the past year. And 42 percent of users have taken a Facebook break of more than several weeks.
Some attribute it to the Cambridge Analitica hack, or the subsequent use of Facebook by Russians to influence elections. Others point to the recent unveiling of anti-Semitic posturing by the company and then there is the recent accusation of a culture of racism. Some say it is the arrogance and aloofness of the platform. But I think it is all that and more.
The average American is overwhelmed. With the drumbeat of negative headlines, scandals, and shocking news the result is a desire to flee. Social media is a world of sharing: photos, food, dating and travel. Cable news is loaded today with acrimony. Newspaper subscriptions are down. Most people get their news from social media. But, more and more are saying they have had enough – and if social media is a refuge from the horrors of a political reality – then the last thing they want to see are articles, images and memes that remind them of what they are trying to forget.
Almost half my Facebook feed this morning was political. Most of it pretty negative. A recent study shows that almost 70% of Americans follow some sort of news source. Just 2.5 million American watch Fox. So, as political anger and frustration grows and grows – the vast majority just want a break. They don’t go to Facebook in search of politics – but that is all they find.
So, how has the online giant responded? Well, having bought a recent campaign of ads around the Affordable Care Act, I can say “not well.” Once the only barrier to an ad not running was text in the ad image. Now, it seems, they have put up all kinds of barriers to prevent sensitive content from being run in an ad.
So rather than open a dialog, the social media site is taking measures it should have taken 3 years ago – not pushing them to the extreme. I had a call with an ad rep, and made a simple request. No problem, she said – we will send that right over. Well, it never came.
This is a crucial time for Facebook. They face a series of storms, and their openness to free expression has given many a place to vent. But, that itself
is pushing away their users, while their inability to explain lapses in judgment push away others. They may still right their ship, but for now she listing pretty badly.