Do you spend less time on Facebook than you used to? If so, you're part of a trend. The company just announced its third-quarter results for last year, revealing that daily active users in North America declined from 185 million to 184 million.
That's not a big drop, but it is a first. Actually two firsts: The first time U.S. and Canadian daily users have declined in the history of the company, but also the first time they've failed to rise from one quarter to the next.
And the people who still use Facebook every day are spending less time on the platform. Facebook also reported that users overall spent 50 million fewer hours on Facebook per day in the last quarter of 2017 compared to the quarter before that. That's about a 5 percent decline.
Some of that, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is because of deliberate tweaks the company has made which he claims will make Facebook more meaningful to users and also make better use of the time spent on the platform. The problem, of course, is that if Facebook is less "sticky," it's less useful to advertisers, from whom Facebook gets most of its revenues. And so the market reacted to Facebook's 5 percent decline in usage with a corresponding 5 percent decline in its share price.
Facebook has come under attack from many directions lately, including from former Facebook executives who claim that spending time on the social network is bad for you, and that they themselves no longer do so. Indeed, research has shown that spending time on Facebook can make you unhappy. Zuckerberg says the platform is changing to support more meaningful interactions (and lessen the flood of fake news), although that may not make spending time on the platform any healthier.
But, whatever tweaks it may make, don't forget that Facebook is first and foremost a money-making endeavor and a public company attempting to keep its shareholders happy. And so, as Bloomberg recently noted, Facebook is upping the ante on its attempts to lure, cajole, or maybe even bamboozle former active users back to the fold.
Some who've deleted the app from their mobile devices and dramatically reduced their Facebook time find themselves getting a lot of emails from the social network. In some cases, according to Bloomberg, lapsed users even received emails alerting them to an attempted log-in--which some recipients believe is a ruse to get them to log in so they can check their accounts.
It does sound suspicious when you consider that the email prompts recipients to either log in to the service or contact it, which would be more trouble--and includes a log-in button right in the email. A Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg that the emails were "not a re-engagement tactic." Although she did add that "We're always looking for ways to help people access their accounts more quickly and easily, especially when there are notifications from friends they may have missed."
Indeed. Annoyed non-frequent users report that they get frequent and unwanted emails alerting them to commemorate milestones that just don't seem that important. For example, getting 100 heart reactions.
$10 go-kart races is an 'important notification'?
I'm a pretty sporadic Facebook user myself, and I have social media email segregated in my inbox so that I rarely see it. (That in itself tells you that I find social media email annoying.) I decided to take a look at the emails Facebook's sending and that I've been ignoring. Sure enough, they've started going way beyond just telling me that someone commented on my post, or sent me a Messenger message. Now the platform is sending emails to remind me to post a birthday wish any time any of my hundreds of friends has a birthday.
Not only that, when it doesn't have enough content from my own Facebook friends to nag me with, it starts emailing me with the subject line, "We found popular events near you." These events are based on my friends' activities, so far as I can tell, but many of them are an hour's drive away or more.
I wondered if this was something I could reset in my Facebook preferences, so I went to Facebook's email preferences for my account (which involved an online search to find out how to get there). To my surprise, my email notifications were already set only to "important notifications about you or activity you've missed." Apparently these include not only the birthdays of people I barely know and never interact with on Facebook, but also $10 race day at a local go-kart track. And I don't even have children.
The frequent mobile notifications are just as bad, though admittedly easier to turn off. And then there are the suggested memories posts that now greet me every single time I open Facebook--what was once pleasantly nostalgic is turning into a reliable annoyance. It's like Facebook has transformed from a platform for interacting with your friends and acquaintances into one of those annoying relatives who just won't stop pestering you to come for a visit, or at least call.
It all makes sense, in a way. If Facebook is determined to stop manipulating users into sticking around with shocking videos or outrageous fake news, then it probably has to find some other way to get people in the door, and this is its latest attempt. But, as the decline in frequent users shows, the company is playing a dangerous game. If using the service goes from feeling like fun to feeling like some sort of obligation, the drop in regular use is likely to continue. Because we all have enough real obligations in our lives.