Facebook still leads social media, but sees slower growth among young users

This is not your father’s Facebook. It’s your grandfather’s.

Facebook’s strongest growth over the past year came from users over age 65, who have signed on to the site to keep in touch with their friends, children and grandchildren, according to a Pew Center for Internet and American Life survey released Monday.

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The survey found that 45 percent of U.S. seniors who use the Internet are on Facebook, up from 35 percent the previous year. The site saw usage grow for all adults over 30, and it is used by 71 percent of Americans, an increase from 67 percent last year.

Use among teens, however, has stagnated at 84 percent. The percentage of those between 18 and 29 who use the site fell two percentage points compared with last year, according to the survey. That’s in keeping with growing concern that Facebook is seeing lower engagement with the younger users who drove its early popularity, something that the company has acknowledged.

Facebook may be a victim of its own success after nearly 10 years as the country’s leading social network, Pew senior researcher Aaron Smith said.

“It’s hard to get more than 85 percent of anyone doing anything,” he said. “A lot of the easy converts in the younger group, or even in the older and middle-aged group, are already on the site. The senior group is the only area that has any substantial area for growth.”

Facebook is seeing an uptick in teen use on Instagram, which it bought for $1 billion in 2012, giving it another avenue for growth. Facebook could not be reached for comment on the study.

Still, Pew’s survey supports a recent study from researchers at University College London that found that some British teens are leaving Facebook because of the influx of older users.

An ethnographic study of 16- to 18-year-olds north of London found that teens are migrating to private-messaging services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat to communicate with their friends. In many cases, the study said, teens stay on Facebook at the behest of their parents, who have made it a tool for keeping track of their children.

“You just can’t be young and free if you know your parents can access your every indiscretion,” wrote Daniel Miller, a professor of Material Culture at UCL who ran the study.

In other words, teens are using Facebook but not for the same reasons they once did. And that fits in with a larger trend in the social media space: Americans are diversifying the social networks they use. More than 40 percent of Americans, Pew found, maintain multiple social network accounts for different purposes.

Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users, seems to be the “default” social network, Smith said, while Pinterest skews more heavily toward women, LinkedIn to more educated or wealthier users, and Twitter to young adults and African Americans.

Users go to specific sites based on what they’re trying to do, Smith said, and engagement for many of the smaller sites are on par with Facebook. Fifty-seven percent of Instagram users, for example, return daily to the site to check for updates, compared with 63 percent of Facebook users. Nearly half of Twitter’s users, 46 percent, also make the site a daily habit.

Pew researchers surveyed 1,800 adults in English and Spanish via landlines and cellphones. The survey interviews were conducted in August and September.

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