Facebook less popular with young people, but still a dominant force

(Montreal) Young people, massively responsible for the meteoric rise of Facebook since its birth, have no gift to give it for the 20the anniversary of its posting online, which will be celebrated this Sunday: more and more of them are deserting this virtual space.

“When I walk around schools, Facebook is an old man’s thing! », says Emmanuelle Parent, director and co-founder of the Center for Emotional Intelligence Online (CIEL).

“Today, young people are on Tiktok, Instagram, spaces created for them that resemble them. »And this is the consolation prize for Meta, owner of Facebook, since Instagram also belongs to it.

The DGTL Study, from the Léger Marketing firm, conducted among 3,046 Canadians between September 5 and October 4 and published on December 7, proves him right, reporting in detail an exodus of young people.

This migration of young people, according to André Caron, professor emeritus at the University of Montreal and specialist in information and communications technologies, “created a shock at Facebook. They had to redefine themselves because the parents, then the grandparents, reappropriated it. The generation that was there at 20 when it was launched, these people are now 40, 45 years old. And families, those who have children, want to stay in touch and are now the most loyal to Facebook. »

“It’s not going to disappear tomorrow,” says Maude Bonenfant, professor in the department of social and public communication at UQAM and expert in social networks. In fact, the platform still has just over three billion subscribers. “The platform remains, even if the practices of certain age groups evolve. Young people are not necessarily on the Facebook platform, but can use chat, for example. »

Facebook: a new place of contact


The explosion of Facebook after it went online in 2004 can be explained by the fact that it was the right vehicle at the right time. “In its early days, the web was so complex and difficult to master. Facebook, the first thing it does is to simplify a lot, a lot what we need to do to share something on the internet,” recalls Philippe Beaudoin, researcher in artificial intelligence and founder of the new platform. Waverly, which is still in development.

Also, the platform allowed something new and extremely attractive: it allowed people to comment and comment on comments, opening up to debate and discussion. “When we are human, we often talk about our needs – to eat, to sleep, to move – but we also need social belonging. Facebook really met this need. It could have been another platform, but they succeeded,” recalls Emmanuelle Parent.

Pierre Trudel, professor of law at the University of Montreal and expert in media and telecommunications law, emphasizes that Facebook “has provided a sort of universal forum in which each individual can very easily broadcast, communicate, share, interact with several people or with a single individual and above all to spread across the planet. Before the advent of Facebook, this was theoretically possible, but much less accessible. »

A giant that imposes its business model

But also, adds Pierre Trudel, the arrival and explosion of growth of the platform “marked a considerable change in the world of media, that is to say a radical shift in the ability to monetize attention Internet users. Facebook is a social network that finances its activities and generates profits by using and then capturing data that is generated by individuals. »

“We have moved from a world of mass media to a world dominated by social networks, online businesses which, essentially, operate according to a logic where it is simply a matter of calculating what attracts attention and selling that to the public. advertising market, unlike the media, whose mission is first and foremost to generate validated content,” he explains.

“Facebook was quite lucky to be the first to the starting line and to gain a certain lead over the others,” notes André Caron.

Maude Bonenfant agrees. “From the moment he imposed this economic model and made a lot of money, he was able to establish himself throughout the entire ecosystem. » Then, she says, with the smartphone and other tablets that became widespread, “it became more and more easy and user-friendly to use this type of platform. It adapted to our practices, but above all we adapted our practices to this type of platform. »

Harm or benefit?

It is not uncommon to hear commentators accuse Facebook – and other platforms – of all evils, but Emmanuelle Parent believes that nuance is necessary. “Facebook has helped a lot in enabling relationships that would never have happened face-to-face. And it has been shown that support groups on social networks are really good for well-being,” she notes, invoking, for example, mutual aid groups for health or people with disabilities. atypical sexual identities.

On the other hand, “there is a risk of something really negative. It is scientifically supported that being behind a screen reduces empathy because you do not see the reaction of the person in front of you. And our communication is not complete; we do not have access to the non-verbal. We can read a message in all caps, which has no emojis and conclude that this person is angry. We may respond more aggressively and say things we would never say face-to-face, especially not to strangers. »

Philippe Beaudoin also talks about the dark side of technology. “One of the main problems when we are so dependent on Facebook for our communication, our access to information, is the fact that the functioning of the algorithm is super opaque, that it can change from one day to the next, based on commercial needs. The algorithm has an immense impact on us as citizens, as a society, on our ability to promote our culture. »

Information censorship in Canada

Canada discovered the extent to which Facebook placed its interests ahead of those of the community when Meta blocked all news sharing to avoid paying royalties to support news production.

However, recalls Jean-Hugues Roy, professor at the UQAM Media School and specialist in media economics, in its early days Facebook was desperate to attract the media to its pages.

Quite early on, they reached out to the news media to invite them to create pages and post their articles there to allow their listeners and readers to have something more substantial, to comment, to share. It was a win-win. The more users Facebook had, the more journalistic content traveled and that brought traffic to news media sites. In return, Facebook sold advertising. This is how, little by little, FB took over the good old media business model by allowing more precise, more refined, more surgical targeting.

Jean-Hugues Roy, professor at the UQAM Media School

Canada is not the only jurisdiction seeking to involve the platform in media funding and, he says, Meta has already begun to subtly disengage from news. “Everywhere else in the world, news people say their content travels much less well on Facebook. We have the impression that Meta is putting the lid on journalistic content because they realize that it is trouble and that, to sell advertising, it is better to have little kitties tumbling about stairs than what happened yesterday at your municipal council. »

Maude Bonenfant does not hide her concern on this subject. “If commercial advertising can influence us in our purchasing behavior, information can also influence us in our political ideas. So it can have a very big impact on democracy, the political system, ideas, ideology in general,” she laments.

Tighten the laws?

All the experts interviewed agree that governments must intervene against this tactic.

“We could very well imagine that the laws in Canada would take Facebook and other social networks at their word,” says Pierre Trudel. That is to say: “You tell us that your vocation is to allow everyone to share the information that seems relevant to them; therefore, you cannot arbitrarily decide to remove some of them because you believe it is contrary to your commercial interests”.

“In other words, it would be possible to have a law that prohibits a social network from censoring for reasons other than the general application of criminal laws against hatred or racist propaganda or pornography or stuff like that,” he continues, arguing that with its dominant position in the market, Facebook has become the equivalent of a public service.

Nothing prevents States from saying: “Look, you have become a public service, that almost gives you a monopoly situation, but there is a counterpart to that. You must act responsibly precisely because you are a public service, whether you like it or not.”

Pierre Trudel, professor of law at the University of Montreal

Jean-Hugues Roy adds, believing that “the best solution would be to force Facebook to have information since Facebook is used by a significant proportion of the Canadian population.”

“If the population can no longer even get information, what will happen? What are we going to become as a society? », asks Maude Bonenfant.

“Already, we are starting to see all the possible excesses of disinformation or misinformation. If there is no longer any information from recognized media, we will have to act socially to restore this power. »

Rise of new networks?

Has Facebook become unmoveable? Maude Bonenfant doesn’t believe it. “Eventually, if there is an alternative that works well, that is easy to use, that meets the needs of citizens, I would not see why it would not be necessary to replace a platform which, in the end, is harmful to citizens. »

This is what Philippe Beaudoin believes, whose future social network Waverly “aims to encourage users’ curiosity by allowing them to make richer connections with the people around them and the communities that are important to them for discover content that is richer, that is not just “clickbait”.

“There is also a kind of fed up with existing platforms, which means that yes, in my opinion, we will see things emerge. There are some who will have more success, others less, that’s certain, but we will have an abundance that we deserve in this universe. »

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