When Facebook was launched nearly 15 years ago it was a hangout of the youth. Older users were few and far between. But now older people are the main age group joining up. Young people not so much – in fact, many are reportedly fleeing Facebook to other social media.
“Teens just want to be as far away from full-blown adults as possible, even on the internet, which means that Facebook will soon be that thing you tell people about when you want to insinuate that you’re old and all the most interesting things about your life have already been posted, liked, and forgotten on Mark Zuckerberg’s Repository of Aging Adults.”
Some 62% of those over the age of 65 who use the internet are now on Facebook. Marketers talk about “the aging Facebook user base” of the 2-billion people worldwide who visit the site every month.
How Facebook is changing
Thus I thought that older people should be aware of a major change that Facebook has just made and how it may affect them.
The change is in response to a great deal of scientific research. Many studies, including an authoritative one by the US National Institute for Mental Health, show that depression goes up with the amount of time you spend on Facebook. Unlike socialising in real life, which has been linked to overall well-being, socialising on Facebook is negatively associated with positive mental health.
33-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he made the change in order to make your Facebook experience “more meaningful and positive”. Critics who see the site as a time waster joke that he wants you to waste time more meaningfully.
Facebook has altered the algorithm that determines what you see on your page. It recognises posts as meaningful when they result in a lot of comments, Likes and Shares. Its Happiness Researchers say they have discovered that when people actively comment on posts they feel better about themselves. This is in comparison to passive users who read posts without responding. Importantly, the study did not compare the happiness levels of those who are not on Facebook.
The new policy is focused on news. Maybe you thought Facebook was mainly for checking out what your kids and grandkids are up to. Or for going green with envy on seeing photos of friends on holiday. It turns out that two-thirds of users say they go there to get news.
Less news is bad news
Yet the new algorithm downplays news. Instead it prioritises content that encourages you to interact with your friends and relatives. Personal posts are now ranked higher than newsy ones. Maybe Facebook’s so-called News Feed should be renamed the Chitchat Channel.
There are many reasons why I’m not happy about this new algorithm. I don’t agree with giving a thumbs down to news articles and videos, and thumbs up to the musings of friends. I believe my own happiness would be enhanced by seeing more news content.
I fear that replacing news with comments from people who tend to think as I do will further insulate me in a Filter Bubble. That’s the term for the kind of digital isolation that shelters us from opinions that challenge our world view.
Zuckerberg wants us to believe that he is selflessly encouraging people to spend less time on Facebook. Why? In the cynical words of The New York Times “to make you feel less terrible about using it”. This is not usual corporate behavior. The Guardian sceptically compared it to “McDonald’s, KFC and Domino’s forming an alliance to promote the role of green vegetables in a balanced diet.”
Figuring out the motives
So what are the true motives behind this new policey of prioritising of friends over news? Many believe it’s to make it harder for publishers and brands to insinuate stories and videos on Facebook. Instead they will have to pay for publicity and promotion. Advertisers and Reputation Management consultants can expect to spend more to get into what are still being called News Feeds.
Another theory about the motivation behind the new algorithm is that it is intended to combat “context collapse”. This is when you realise that what you post about your wild night life will also be seen by those who aren’t your drinking buddies – like maybe your boss. This awareness is apparently driving the recent tendency for people to post less about their personal lives. Which is bad news for Facebook’s business plan because it means less information for them to use in selling advertisements.
No worries, Facebook is working on mind-reading technology so it won’t matter if we stop posting personal information. It’s true, research is underway on how to read your brainwaves. Soon you may not even have to type your thoughts on a computer or phone for Facebook to know what you’re thinking.
Just say “LITO”
So what is the take-out message for older people? I think it’s contained in a favourite motto of My New Old Self: “Lucky I’m Too Old!” Or to use internet slang, LITO.
Say LITO to spending hours on a computer or phone, typing and clicking. Say LITO to the idea that rewarding social interaction is on Facebook. Rather focus on the face to face kind.