Reports of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s death may have been greatly exaggerated. University College of London professor Daniel Miller made waves with an article in The Conversation saying that teenagers were leaving Facebook in droves because they didn’t think a service so heavily used by their parents was cool anymore. This dovetails with Facebook’s admission a few months ago that its teenage user base had dipped, but the reality is that a majority of US teens use Facebook every day, and a very large majority are active users. It also seems that the Miller article is based on much less than it would seem.
Conclusions for Facebook based on one village in UK
While Miller mentions research being done on Facebook use by eight researchers around the world, his article in The Conversation is based on anecdotes he collected while interviewing teenagers in one village in London – a decidedly smaller sample and not nearly as diverse as you might think from a quick read of the article.
“What the piece does not make clear is how this research has been conducted, how many teenagers were involved, where they were and how they were selected,” writes Rory Cellan-Jones in a BBC article critical of Miller’s conclusions.
It turns out that kids aren’t really leaving Facebook, even according to Miller’s own research, they just don’t think it’s as cool as they used to. Facebook, with lots of parents and older relatives on board, isn’t the first stop for talking to other teens, which may be true but isn’t as disastrous as the “sustained decline” Miller’s article predicted.
Miller allowed his work to be ‘sexed-up’
“What went viral was not the blog piece, but a version that was re-written by a journalist for an online academic magazine called The Conversation,” Miller later wrote in defense of his research. “Allowing your work to be `sexed-up’ seems to be a compromise academics will have to accept if they want to reach those audiences… small shifts in meaning that came with the rewrite became accentuated in later less careful reportage by other journalists.”
Daily active users go to the core of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s business model, so any evidence that it is in a state of permanent decline is quite serious. When it comes with an academic’s stamp of approval, investors have even more reason to worry, but even then, the devil is in the details.