Social media is booming now more than ever. It has become a part of the daily lives of millions, who simply cannot imagine living without it. According to the Global Digital Report, the number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.196 billion, up by 13% year-on-year.
Facebook and youth
Compared to when it started, Facebook is no longer a favourite of the younger audience. According to a report made by Piper Jaffray, Snapchat has been the favourite app for teenage social media users since as far back as 2012, with Instagram following right behind. And Instagram is constantly trying to bring more Snapchat-like features to its own app.
The Youth Portal
On Tuesday 15th May Facebook launched the Youth Portal. It states that the purpose of the portal is to offer some guidance to teens on topics such as service navigation, security and data usage. Facebook says that they began displaying these tips for teens in the newsfeed earlier this month.
This is ironic, coming from a company that is accused of abusing its users' information, by selling data to the highest bidder. It remains to be seen what the real reason is for developing a Youth Portal, but it is hard to believe that it is solely to coach teenagers in online security and safety.
The portal is separated into four categories. The first one is the Facebook basics. It represents a general guide to the functions of the platform, including Profiles, Pages, Groups and Events. These are explained in an engaging manner, with the aim of attracting the interest of their younger users.
What follows is Peer Voices, with a structure similar to blog posts. Here one can find first-person stories from other young people from around the world, where they share how they are using technology in new and creative ways.
The third section consists of ways to take control of your online experience. It includes tips on security, reporting posts and users, and deciding who should have access to the information you share.
It compares what can happen when making certain choices online to scenarios of what might happen when making similar choices in real life. One of the guiding principles you can find on the youth portal says "Don't leave the door to your house open ... don’t share your password with anyone. Not your friends, not the person you're dating. It is never, ever worth it."
According to Facebook, the Youth Portal was developed following discussions with teens from various countries around the world, as well as Global Safety Network Summits. The portal can be found in 60 languages. The intention behind the Youth Portal is a good one and the research of the developers’ team seems to be done accordingly. And yet, there is no certainty that it will be effective.
Unpopular with parents
It is not a secret that Facebook is unpopular with parents trying to keep their children from the potential horrors of social media. The platform has been trying to win back its younger audience for some years now without any real success.
Simplifying down the written and unwritten rules of social media and adding a colourful illustration will most likely not do much to improve the perception young people have about Facebook. Reading rules and guidelines has never been a popular pastime of young people, no matter how colourful and casually explained the rules may be.
There is the possibility that the Youth Portal is Facebook's last-ditch attempt to win back credibility, and climb back up on top. However, the Youth Portal appears merely to be a more visually pleasant version of the Terms & Conditions, with no significant impact on the Facebook user, and certainly not likely to attract swarms of teenagers to the platform.
Do as we say, not as we do
Facebook was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg and some of his fellow classmates and roommates at Harvard College. The platform became popular quickly among other universities and even high schools. According to a Nielsen study, in 2011, Facebook had become the second-most accessed website in the U.S. behind Google.
Earlier this year, in March, whistleblowers revealed that personal information from over 50 million Facebook users was sold to data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica. This resulted in Mark Zuckerberg being called for questioning in front of the American Congress.
Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since this acknowledgement. On top of that, Zuckerberg admitted under the questioning of the U.S. Representative Ben Luján that, for security reasons, Facebook also collects data of people who have not signed up for Facebook.
Regardless of what Facebook's true motivation is, trying to teach teenagers about how they should protect their privacy, while at the same time selling their personal information without their consent, does come off as extremely hypocritical.
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