In the stampede towards getting younger and younger users, Facebook is now allowing teenagers to make their posts publicly available for the first time.
Previously, Facebook users aged 13-17 could only share posts with their “friends” or “friends of friends,” which was the default option. Now, even though the default option will be restricted to just “friends,” teens will have the option to make their posts available for anyone to see.
In addition, teens can turn on the “follow” option so that non-friends can follow them and see their public posts in their newsfeeds.
So why is Facebook doing this now? The official reason on its blog announcement was “Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard. “
No doubt, these community building activities are a (tiny) part of it, but it’s also an obvious ploy to skew younger. There are plenty of trend reports and anecdotes about how teens just don’t want to be on Facebook anymore, especially since it’s now the social media platform of choice for their parents and older siblings. Facebook has been losing younger users to Tumblr and Instagram, and it’s hoping to boost teen engagement by letting them share more content with the world.
Teen celebrities can now broadcast their thoughts directly to fans without having to create a separate Facebook Page they have to manage. This could be crucial in keeping younger users more engaged.
For marketers, this means they now have an additional demographic to study if they use results from Facebook’s Graph Search, or other social intelligence data gathering tools. Facebook is right about the fact that teens are savvy and highly vocal on social media, and their public posts could be a rich source of information for brands looking to tap into that age group.
However, even Facebook acknowledges that a small fraction of teens will actually take the extra step to share their posts publicly. This means most of the public posts available for research or marketing data will come from the over-sharers or attention seekers, so the value is limited.
There are some obvious privacy concerns with the new feature. Maybe it’s not the best idea to let kids broadcast their thoughts to the world when they could come back to haunt them. To combat that, Facebook has set up a pop-up warning system to let teens know when they are posting something the whole world will see. Here’s what it looks like:
Is that doing enough? It’s more than what other social media sites are doing. Anyone can join Twitter and say anything that is by default public. The same goes for Instagram. If we’re going to have a debate about teen privacy on social media, it has to include all forms of it, not just the most dominant one.