The main users of Facebook tend to be older

Facebook says it’s not dead. Facebook also wants to let you know that it’s not just for “old folks,” as young people have been saying for years.

Now that the biggest thorn in its side — TikTok — faces tightened government scrutiny amid rising U.S.-China tensions, Facebook could perhaps position itself as a viable, domestically-developed alternative.

There’s just one problem: young adults like Devin Walsh have moved on.

“I can’t even remember the last time I signed up. It must have been years ago,” said Walsh, 24, who lives in Manhattan and works in public relations.

Instead, she checks Instagram, which also belongs to the Facebook parent company Meta, about five to six times a day. Then, of course, there’s TikTok, where she spends about an hour every day scrolling and letting the algorithm find things “I didn’t even know I was interested in.”

Walsh can’t imagine a world where Facebook, which she’s joined since sixth grade, becomes a regular part of her life again.

“It’s the branding, right? When I think of Facebook, I think of happy older people, parents posting pictures of their kids, random status updates, and also people arguing about political issues,” Walsh said, using the Gen Z term for things , which are definitely not cool.

The once-cool social media platform that predated the iPhone has now been around for almost two decades. For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched in his Harvard dorm in 2004, it’s inseparable from daily life — even if it’s faded somewhat over the years.

Facebook faces a particularly strange challenge. Today, 3 billion people check it every month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And every day 2 billion log in. Yet after two decades of its existence, it still finds itself in a battle for relevance and its future.

For younger generations — those who enrolled in middle school or those who are now in middle school — it’s definitely not the place. Without this forward-thinking demographic, Facebook, still parent company Meta’s main source of revenue, risks taking a back seat — useful but boring, like email.

That was not always so. For almost a decade, Facebook was the place to be, the cultural touchstone, the object constantly referenced in daily conversations and on late-night television, and even the subject of a Hollywood film in its creation. Rival MySpace, which had only launched a year earlier, quickly became obsolete as cool kids flocked to Facebook. It didn’t help MySpace’s fate that it was sold to the stale News Corp. in 2005. was sold.

“It was this weird combination… Nobody knew how technology worked, but to have a MySpace, we all had to become mini-programmers. It was so stressful,” said Moira Gaynor, 28. “Maybe that’s why Facebook is taking off. Because compared to MySpace, it was this beautiful, integrated, wonderful interaction space that we didn’t have before and that we really craved after struggling with MySpace for so long.”

Positioning himself as a visionary, Zuckerberg refused to sell Facebook and propelled his company through the mobile revolution. While some rivals popped up – remember Orkut? – They generally disappeared with the Facebook boom, seemingly inexorably despite scandals surrounding user privacy and a failure to adequately combat hate speech and misinformation. In 2015, it reached one billion daily users.

Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at Insider Intelligence who has followed Facebook since its inception, notes that the site’s younger users have been declining, but doesn’t think Facebook is going anywhere, at least not any time soon.

“The fact that we’re talking about Facebook being 20 years old I think is a testament to what Mark developed during his college years. It’s pretty incredible,” she said. “It’s still a very powerful platform around the world.”

AOL was once powerful, too, but its user base has aged, and today an email address is little more than a punchline in a joke about people of a certain age who are tech-savvy.

Tom Alison, who serves as head of Facebook (Zuckerberg’s title is now CEO of Meta), sounded upbeat in an interview with The Associated Press detailing the platform’s plans to attract young adults.

“We used to have a team at Facebook that focused on younger cohorts, or maybe there were a project or two dedicated to generating new ideas,” Alison said. “And about two years ago we said no – our entire product line needs to change, evolve and adapt to the needs of young adults.”

He calls it the era of “social discovery.”

“It’s very strongly motivated by next-generation expectations of social media. I’ll just put it this way: We want Facebook to be the place where you can connect with the people you know, want to know, and should know,” Alison said.

Artificial intelligence is at the heart of this plan. Just as TikTok uses its AI and algorithm to show people videos they didn’t know they wanted to see, Facebook hopes to use its powerful technology to win back the hearts and eyeballs of young adults. Reels, the TikTok-like videos that Facebook and Instagram users are bombarded with when they log into both apps, are also crucial. And of course private messages.

“What we’re seeing is that more and more people want to share and discuss Reels, and we’re starting to bring messaging features back into the app to make Facebook a place not only to discover great things, that are relevant to you, but you share and discuss those with people,” Alison said.

Facebook has consistently refused to disclose user demographics, which would shed some light on how the company is faring with young adults. But outside researchers say their numbers are declining. The same is true for teenagers – although Facebook appears to have refrained from actively recruiting teenagers due to concerns about the impact of social media on their mental health.

“Young people often shape the future of communication. I mean, that’s basically the reason Facebook was so successful – young people were attracted to it. And we’re seeing that happen with pretty much every social platform that’s come along since Facebook,” Williamson said. This year, Insider estimates that about half of TikTok users are between the ages of 12 and 24.

Williamson doesn’t think that trend will reverse, but does point out that Insider’s estimates only go as far as 2026. There is a decline, but it is slow. The research firm projects that this year around 28% of Facebook users in the US will be between the ages of 18 and 34, compared to nearly 46% on TikTok and 42% on Instagram. The figures are clearer for teenagers aged 12 to 17.

“I think the best thing they could do would be to get away from a social platform. Like they lost that. But hey, if they want to be the new Yellow Pages, why not?” said Gaynor, who lives in San Diego, California and works in government. “I really like Marketplace. I just moved and bought most of my furniture there.”