HOW DO YOU DO, FELLOW KIDS?
Facebook’s ‘LOL’ Outreach to Teens Is a Joke
A meme app to attract young users went nowhere. It’s increasingly clear that the site is for boomers.
Everyone born after 2000 is apparently too smart to use Facebook.
The social media company is shuttering “LOL,” a teen-focused meme app before it even launched, Recode reports. It’s the latest closure of a Facebook service aimed at young people. Try as it might, Facebook can’t seem to lure Generation Z to its platform. And ill-conceived apps like “LOL” suggest the company doesn’t know what young people want.
LOL was a joke from the start. Screenshots of the in-development app showed a category titled “Piping Hot Memes” and a recommended video captioned “that confident dab though,” which is the Silicon Valley version of Hillary Clinton advising voters to “Pokemon Go to the polls,” or an eighth-grade math teacher sitting backwards in a chair to explain that “homework is lit, fam.” It’s a clench-jawed attempt to speak the easy-going language of youth culture.
The app was developed by Facebook’s “youth team” that has cut short previous attempts to reach teens. In 2017, Facebook gave up on a teens-only app called LifeStage. In 2018, it shuttered the anonymous question-and-answer app TBH. With the failure of LOL, Facebook’s youth team is restructuring to focus on Messenger Kids, a controversial app for children under 13, Recode reported.
Facebook wasn’t always anathema to young people. The platform launched in 2004 as a site for college students. But its appeal to the kids is dwindling. In a 2015 Pew survey of U.S. teenagers, 71 percent of respondents said they used Facebook. Three years later, that figure dropped to 51 percent.
A growing cynicism about Facebook might be partially to blame. Millennials and older generations came into social media when the platforms were in their heyday and their most ambitious promises—create meaningful connections! expand your world!—seemed possible. The Facebook of yore expected users to follow pages for all the bands and books they liked, partially to keep abreast of album launches and tour dates, but also because that laundry list of consumption habits was part of a profile. Your likes were a conscious reflection of who you were. Years later, after the revelation that data-mining firms like Cambridge Analytica have scraped and repackaged Facebook users’ information for use in advertisements, the platform seems less like a personal diary and more like an affinity scam tailored to every affinity.
Cambridge Analytica mined millions of Facebook users’ data through an app called “This Is Your Digital Life.” It’s hard to imagine that title selling as well today, when wellness warriors preach the merits of “unplugging,” and popular teen apps like Snapchat or Instagram automatically delete pictures after 24 hours through the “stories” feature. (Even when teens share Instagram pictures outside the “stories” feature, they often manually delete old pictures, keeping their profiles sparse.)
Generation Z doesn’t want the “Digital Life” Facebook sells. Raised with an innate awareness of Silicon Valley surveillance, they’re reflexively limiting their online footprint. And meme culture, the language of always-online generations, lends itself even less to a curated Facebook app like “LOL.”
In an essay that later became a meme of its own, Washington Post writer Elizabeth Bruenig argued that the absurdity of meme culture is a response to this moment in Silicon Valley capitalism. Young people feel more powerless than ever, cornered by looming student debt and poor job prospects, while social media giants offer super-sterile platforms and brands peddle a “soft, untheorized tendency toward niceness” that feels insane against the background of observable chaos.
“Rather than trying to restore meaning and sense where they’ve gone missing, the style aims to play with the moods and emotions of an illegible world,” Bruenig wrote.
So teens aren’t on the LOL app filing memes to tidy categories like “Fail” or “Wait for it.” They’re on Tik Tok making videos of a guy trying to shoot a Furry as it crawls toward him like the girl in The Exorcist while the music from one of the early Pokemon video games plays. Adults don’t know how to use Tik Tok, and that’s half the point.
Today’s teens might be hopelessly hooked on YouTube (85 percent told Pew they use the site), or the Facebook-owned Instagram, but Mark Zuckerberg’s original social network just isn’t cool anymore.
And with failed meme app after shuttered messaging service, Facebook is committing the worst of teenage sins: it’s trying too hard.