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Reports of Facebook’s teen exodus have been greatly exaggerated

Anecdotes and unscientific surveys point to teens leaving the site, but its most-talked-about pages tell a different story.


Kevin Morris


Posted on Mar 13, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 9:53 pm CDT

Facebook has a teen problem, or so we’re told.

A parade of recent reports warns kids are leaving behind the world’s biggest social network for shinier, sexier things like Tumblr and Snapchat and Instagram.

The latest article to ring the alarm bells is from Time‘s Victor Luckerson, who mimicked the premise and sources of a much-cited Verge article before adding in his own anecdotal evidence to reach a resounding conclusion: “Facebook Losing its Cool Cachet Among Teenagers.”

In a survey of 40 students Luckerson conducted at an Birmingham, Ala., high school, only eight said Facebook was their most-used social network. In the same breath, he admitted his survey was not scientific. Kind of an important fact. “Unscientific” is statistical codespeak for “ignore any conclusions I draw from this data.” How do we know these 40 kids from Birmingham can tell us anything about worldwide Facebook usage trends?

The Verge‘s Ellis Hamburger likewise collected a series of anecdotal case-studies: “I find it boring, and I don’t really care about knowing all my friends’ details anymore,” Hamburger’s 15-year-old cousin told him. He also cited the case of Branch cofounder Josh Miller’s 15-year-old sister—she really doesn’t like Facebook, either.

If you’re counting, that’s 42 kids whose tastes and choices apparently represent teenagers around the world.

According to The Verge and Time, these teens are headed to snazzier social outlets, especially Tumblr. Both articles cite a January survey, conducted via startup Survata, that suggested more teens use Tumblr than Facebook—61 percent versus 55 percent.

In a conversation with the Daily Dot, Survata cofounder Aaron Wenger suggested results from that survey shouldn’t necessarily be used to draw conclusions about the entire U.S. population. Survata conducts surveys via participating websites that it handpicks for quality. Perhaps the teens using Survata’s client sites are different from teens at large—maybe they come from better economic backgrounds, maybe they skew white, maybe they skew male. The company uses various tricks and tools to account for biases like these, but Wenger suggested the survey’s findings would be more conclusive if it were repeated a few more times.

“I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is losing sleep” over this one survey, Wenger said.

The only real meat to these portentous warnings of Facebook’s supposed teenage doom is a statement from Facebook itself. In the “risks” section of its 10-K annual report published earlier this year, the company wrote:

We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook. For example, we believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram.

That doesn’t sound good, but is hardly a tacit admission of a Great Teen Exodus. And keep in mind, the report reads “younger” users not “teen”—these could be 20-somethings who are jumping ship, not teens.

Overall, Facebook’s user base has grown 25 percent over the past year. It now has more than 1 billion users, whose population patterns are fluid. There are thousands of people no doubt migrating from Facebook to another service every month, while thousands of others migrate to Facebook from somewhere else.

The Daily Dot reached out to Facebook for specific data on its teen userbase, but the company wasn’t helpful. (A spokesman sent us the same statement Facebook gave to Time: “We are gratified that more than 1 billion people, including enormous numbers of young people, are using  Facebook to connect and share.”)

We do have some data, however, that hints The Verge and Time may not be telling the whole story. Independent analytics site PageData tracks the most-talked-about pages on Facebook every day. The “people talking about this” (PTAT) metric is probably the most meaningful measure of engagement and reach on Facebook. A high PTAT score means subscribers are ravenously sharing, commenting, and liking your posts.

Looking at PageData’s top 30 list, only one trend pops out: Teens absolutely dominate the most-engaged pages on Facebook. Nine out of the top 30 pages on Facebook are teen-centric.

Here’s the list:

Teens of Swag: 8.5 million talking about
Teens Only: 6 million talking about
Teens Onlyღ: 5.6 million talking about
Awkward Teens: 4.7 million talking about
WeAreTeensღ 4.7 million talking about
Wtf Teen: 4.3 million talking about
Totally Teen Quotes. :] 3.4 million talking about
Certified Teens: 3.3 million talking about
Bitch Please? Imma Teen: 3.2 million talking about

All told, somewhere around 43.7 million people are talking about these teen pages every day on Facebook. And these are only statistics from the top 30 pages. There may be thousands of other teen-oriented pages outside the top 30, with millions more talking about them at any given time.

These numbers could have some overlap (one person may subscribe to more than one page) and you don’t necessarily have to be a teen to subscribe, so we’re not about to leap to any broad conclusions about this data. We will say this, however: The growing media narrative about Facebook and teens isn’t entirely accurate. Some teens may be leaving, but others remain behind, engaging content with a rabid voracity.

How many of your grown-up friends are sharing from “Bitch Please? Imma teen”?

Photo via Teens Only ღ/Facebook

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*First Published: Mar 13, 2013, 9:51 am CDT