Like it or not, Facebook is still around — but who's still on it?


Too big to fail: Even after countless scandals, Facebook still commands a massive user base around the world. — dpa

No other major social media network has weathered as many scandals and shrugged off as much criticism. Even as Facebook's active user base starts to decline in some countries, is this giant just too big to fail?

There are more than 2.5 billion Facebook users worldwide, making it by far the largest social media platform online today.

But swamped by fake news and annoying posts, some users, especially younger ones, are turning away from Facebook, migrating to other platforms such as Instagram – a Facebook subsidiary – or TikTok, leaving behind an older user base. Even if they still maintain a profile, fewer of these users are logging in and using it actively.

So why do some people stay on Facebook and others go? What inspires them to log in these days? Journalist Daniel Fiene says that if it were up to Facebook, users would have to log in to communicate with friends and family. "However, for most users, Facebook doesn't even have that function anymore," as people instead communicate in a family chat on WhatsApp - another Facebook property - or Instagram.

"Many users use the platform as a way to manage contacts and to learn about events," explains Fiene.

Facebook benefits in this respect from its large user base, which according to media trainer Teja Adams, is the network's biggest advantage over the others. Facebook is aimed at nearly all groups of users, which is why it's "the network where you have always had the best chances of meeting friends and acquaintances," explains Adams.

Facebook also offers the widest range of functions compared to other networks: Users can chat, post on other's walls or join a group, says Adams. One popular function is events, which allows private users and businesses and organisations to create a page where people can show their interest in attending, ask questions or learn more information.

And Facebook groups in particular also continue to draw in users, says Adams. "For every topic, no matter how specific, you can find the right group on Facebook," he says. And not only online, but also near where the user physically lives - allowing face-to-face contact.

Facebook has added more and more basic functions to the platform in the past few years, such as gaming, live videos or the marketplace. There are a variety of different functions now within Facebook that appeal to different target groups. "But there is no longer a function that is a unique selling point to Facebook or is wildly popular."

There are problems in other areas as well: Several central functions no longer work as well, says Adams. Facebook's newsfeed, for example, which is actually the lifeblood of the platform, is now overwhelmed by posts from people other than friends, making it less attractive.

"But Facebook won't die so quickly," says Adams reassuredly. The network is too big and too deeply integrated into our daily lives.

He also believes the user base will stay stable; even if new, younger users stay away, there are always potential new user groups among older folks. And the network is constantly trying to grow its bases, most recently with a whole array of brand-new audio functions.

In the past, Facebook has faced criticism for its opaque default settings and misleading design in the user interface. "Through its design, Facebook should more strongly enable users to make good decisions," says media researcher Matthias C Kettemann.

Dark patterns – user interfaces that are intended to entice users to disclose private data or spend more time on the network than they'd like – should especially be looked at critically, says Kettemann.

Facebook has made some improvements in recent years, especially in the face of legal initiatives such as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation. "While privacy settings on Facebook were pretty low to start with, they are now higher by default," he adds. – dpa

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