Updated 09:24 AM EDT, Sat, Oct 21, 2017
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Reports of Facebook's Demise Among Teens Greatly Exaggerated, Says Sheryl Sandberg

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Reports of the demise of Facebook among its younger demographic have been greatly exaggerated, according to Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

Facebook's chief operating officer is firing back at reports that say the world's largest social media network is losing popularity among young teens. Sandberg said in a conversation on Thursday with AllThingsD's Mike Isaac that the whole thing has been "blown out of proportion."

The narrative that Facebook is losing its teen audience began earlier this year in May, when a Pew Internet and American Life study - made up of both a survey and focus group - found, among other things, that Twitter was growing among teens, who were finding Facebook to be too "parent ridden" for their tastes.

Later in the fall, a Piper Jaffray survey found that Facebook was dropping sharply among teens when asked, "What social network is Best?" In that survey, Facebook fell from over 40 percent preferred to under 25 percent preferred in just one year. Meanwhile, Twitter made decent gains and Instagram and the "Other" category - likely influenced the surging Snapchat - showed a strong increase in popularity as well.

At around the same time, Facebook chief financial officer David Ebersman made a comment in the company's Q3 earnings call that seemed to be a begrudging admission of Facebook's problem with teens. "Our best analysis of youth engagement in the U.S. reveals that usage of Facebook among U.S. teens overall was stable," said the CFO, after which he admitted, "we did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens."

Sandberg now believes the coverage of those last dozen words uttered by Ebersman has been overblown. "The vast majority of U.S. teens are on Facebook. And the majority of U.S. teens use Facebook almost every day," said Sandberg in the Thursday interview.

The chief operating officer has some perspective on the sky-is-falling reports of teens leaving Facebook in droves, saying, "I feel like I've lived this before. When I was first at Facebook just a few years in, adults were getting into Facebook in larger numbers." The reaction then was much like how the teens in the Pew survey reacted, according to Sandberg: "'Oh my God, my mom's on Facebook!' and that sort of thing."

But Facebook is now about ten years old, and Sandberg says the company is not threatened by "shinier and cooler" competitors like the two-year-old Snapchat: "... what Mark [Zuckerberg] has said and what we all believe is that we're not trying to be the coolest. And we're not trying to be the newest. We're trying to be the most useful."

This jives with the situation reported in the Pew Study released in May, which found that while teens were starting to use Twitter and other social media outlets in larger numbers, they were certainly not ditching Facebook. In the study, seven of ten teens on Facebook are friends with their parents, but many find they're "disliking the increasing adult presence" and "drama" associated with the social network.

However, the study also found that despite being tired of some aspects, teens find it basically a social necessity to be connected to Facebook. And that's a position Sandberg and company think is just fine to be in. 

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