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Painful Truth: What happens after Facebook dies?

Do all social media apps suffer a death spiral after a certain point?
Facebook, the world’s most popular social media site. For now. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Someday, probably in the not-too-distant future, Facebook will no longer be the world’s biggest social media site.

That sounds sort of impossible right now. Facebook has just shy of three billion users right now. It has the kind of market penetration that previous examples of world-spanning companies – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nike – could only dream of. It rakes in billions in revenue from ads, thanks to creating a digital space where people don’t just want to be, they have to be. Friendships, family connections, clubs, relationships, and even commerce all rely on Facebook to a considerable extent.

It’s starting to look like there’s a natural life cycle to social media companies.

Do you know what social media company had the most users in 2009? Just 13 years ago?

It was Myspace. That year, Facebook passed Myspace and continued its rocket-like ascent.

What happened to Myspace? Well, it wasn’t cool anymore. People left.

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg and other senior execs at second-generation social media firms like Facebook and Twitter thought that unlike Friendster and Myspace, they were creating virtual spaces that would endure. They’d be like Standard Oil or General Electric, companies with lifespans measured in generations.

But there was no evidence for this.

Facebook did grow and grow and grow. But its growth contained the seeds of its demise.

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Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has recently been modifying its social media kingdoms, including Instagram, to make them more like TikTok.

The upstart Chinese-founded video sharing site has been stealing market share away from Facebook for the past couple of years.

Worse, it’s been doing it in the most insidious and terrifying way possible – it’s popular with teenagers!

Facebook started among college kids and 20-somethings. It was for young people, and anything young people take up has an inherent frisson of hipness.

But those early users grew up – they’re now in their 30s and 40s – and also, their parents and grandparents joined up.

Great, more users! More connections! More ads! More money!

But Facebook forgot that once your grandma is sharing pics of her pugs, a certain level of coolness is lost forever. (Not to say anything bad about anyone’s grandma’s pugs. They’re definitely adorable!)

Facebook (and Instagram) seem destined to last for some years, maybe decades.

But the bloom is off the rose. The young people will migrate to TikTok, until it gets infested with corporations and uncool parents, and the next bright shiny thing beckons. Facebook will bleed users, and the fewer people who are there, the less reason there is for their friends to stay, and the process spirals forever downward, until it’s Myspace 2.0.

Meta thought it was building an institution. But it’s looking like social media is an ephemeral business model.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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