Facebook, nearing 20, has 3 billion users. Many of them are old.

But it says it isn’t dead or just for “old people,” as critics have said for years. The social media platform, born before the iPhone, is approaching two decades in existence.

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An iPhone displays the Facebook app. Facebook says it is not dead and that it’s not even just for “old people,” as young people have been saying for years. The social media platform born before the iPhone is approaching two decades in existence.

Facebook says it is not dead and that it’s not even just for “old people,” as young people have been saying for years. The social media platform born before the iPhone is approaching two decades in existence.

Jenny Kane / AP

Facebook, born before the iPhone, is approaching two decades in existence and wants you to know: It’s not dead, nor is it just for “old people,” as young people have said for years.

Now, with the biggest thorn in its side — TikTok — facing heightened government scrutiny amid growing tensions between the United States and China, Facebook could perhaps position itself as a viable, domestic-bred alternative.

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

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

Instead, she checks Instagram, also owned by Facebook parent company Meta, about five or six times a day.

Then, there’s TikTok, of course, on which she spends about an hour a day scrolling, letting the algorithm find things “I didn’t even know I was interested in.”

Walsh can’t imagine a world in which Facebook, which she joined when she was in sixth grade, might once again become a regular part of her life.

“When I think of Facebook, I think, ugh, like cheugy, older people,” Walsh said, using a Gen Z term for things that are definitely not cool. “Like parents posting pictures of their kids, random status updates and also people fighting about political issues.”

The once-cool social media platform, born before the iPhone, is approaching two decades in existence.

For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm room in 2004, it’s been inextricably baked into daily life — even if it’s somewhat faded into the background over the years.

Facebook faces a particularly odd challenge. Three billion people check it each month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And two billion log in every day. Yet it still finds itself in a battle for relevancy and its future.

For younger generations — those who signed up in middle school or those who are now in middle school, it’s decidedly not the place to be. Without this demographic, Facebook — which is still the main source of revenue for parent company Meta — risks fading into the background, utilitarian but boring, like email.

For nearly a decade, Facebook was a cultural touchstone, the thing constantly mentioned in conversations and late-night TV, its founding the subject of a movie. Rival MySpace, launched only a year earlier, quickly became outdated as people flocked to Facebook.

“It was this weird combination,” said Moira Gaynor, 28. “No one knew how technology worked, but, in order to have a MySpace, we all needed to become mini-coders. It was so stressful. Maybe that’s even why Facebook took off. Because, compared to MySpace, it was this beautiful, integrated, wonderful engagement area that we didn’t have before and we really craved after struggling with MySpace for so long.”

Positioning himself a visionary, Zuckerberg refused to sell Facebook and pushed his company through the mobile revolution. While some rivals emerged — remember Orkut? — they generally petered out as Facebook soared, seemingly unstoppable despite scandals over user privacy and a failure, in the minds of many, to adequately address hate speech and misinformation. It reached a billion daily users in 2015.

Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with Insider Intelligence who’s followed Facebook since its early days, notes that the site’s younger users have been dwindling but doesn’t see Facebook fading away any time soon.

“The fact that we are talking about Facebook being 20 years old, I think that is a testament of what Mark developed when he was in college,” Williamson said. “It’s pretty incredible. It is still a very powerful platform around the world.”

AOL was once powerful, too, but its user base has aged, and now an aol.com email address is little more than a punchline in a joke about technologically illiterate people of a certain age.

Tom Alison, who serves as the head of Facebook — Zuckerberg’s title is now Meta CEO — sounded optimistic in an interview as he outlined the platform’s plans to lure young adults.

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

“It’s very much motivated by what we see the next generation wanting from social media . . . We want Facebook to be the place where you can connect with the people you know, the people you want to know and the people that you should know.”

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

“What we are seeing is more people wanting to share reels, discuss reels, and we’re starting to integrate messaging features back into the app to again allow Facebook to be a place where not only do you discover great things that are relevant to you but you share and you discuss those with people,” Alison said.

Facebook has consistently declined to disclose user demographics. Outside researchers say its numbers are declining. The same is true for teenagers.

“Young people often shape the future of communication.” Williamson said. “I mean, that’s basically how Facebook took off — young people gravitated toward it. And we we see that happening with pretty much every social platform that has come on the scene since Facebook.”

This year, Insider estimates that about half of TikTok’s users are 12 to 24 years old.

Williamson doesn’t see this trend reversing but notes that Insider’s estimates only go as far as 2026. There’s a decline, but it’s slow. That year, the research firm expects about 28% of U.S. Facebook users to be between 18 and 34 years old, compared with nearly 46% for TikTok and 42% for Instagram. The numbers are more stark for those 12 to 17.

“I think the best thing they could do is get away from being a social platform,” said Gaynor, who lives in San Diego and works in government. “Like, they’ve lost that. But, hey, if they want to become the new Yellow Pages, why notk. I really like Marketplace. I recently just moved, so that was where I got most of my furniture.”

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