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Is the social media era ending?

published12 days ago
4 min read

Is the social media era really ending?

Welcome to Nonrival, the newsletter where readers make predictions.

How it works

  1. On Sundays, read the newsletter and make a forecast by clicking a link at the bottom.
  2. On Wednesdays, see what other readers predicted and how your forecast compares.
  3. Over time, you’ll get scores based on how accurate your forecasts are.

In this issue

  • Make a forecast: Will Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & Snapchat have more or fewer combined users in February than they do today?

Note: A number of users did not have their predictions scored correctly in Wednesday’s email. Apologies for that! All forecasts have been recorded but a bug prevented some of them from being scored. I’ll resend those scores once the bug has been fixed.

Thanks for forecasting. Send feedback to newsletter@nonrival.pub.


Elon Musk is blowing up Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg is pivoting to the metaverse, power users are fleeing their platforms, and seemingly every tech company is laying people off. Columnists are marking the end of an era. “The age of social media is ending,” Ian Bogost wrote in The Atlantic. His colleague Derek Thompson says “We’ve mostly passed through the browser era, the social-media era, and the smartphone-app-economy era” and are entering the AI era.

But is the social media era really ending? That could mean a lot of things, but one of them is that the legacy social media apps—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—will decline.

The real value of forecasting is its ability to make our thinking more explicit, as Michael Page, the former head of Georgetown’s Foretell forecasting platform, put it to me recently. And that’s what I want to do here. Do we really think the major social media apps are going to decline?

This week’s forecast looks at the total global daily Android users (for data availability reasons) for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat combined. Will that number rise or fall over the next few months?


Background

Twitter has reportedly been losing its power users since the pandemic. The number of accounts that tweet at least three times a week has been declining and hundreds of thousands of users have deactivated their accounts since Musk took over. Hundreds of employees have resigned following the layoffs and a Musk ultimatum. The World Cup, which will take place from late Nov. through mid-Dec., historically drives lots of users to Twitter.

Facebook’s daily active users fell for the first time ever in the fourth quarter of 2021 but have grown modestly since. Mark Zuckerberg is spending billions to reposition Meta as a “metaverse” or virtual-reality focused company.

Snap laid off 20% of its staff in August, as the threat of recession hurt the ad market. Meta laid off 13% of its staff in November. And Musk laid off half of Twitter last month.

Privacy changes by Apple has hurt the advertising businesses of social media companies. The smartphone maker made it harder for an app to share data with third parties, including advertisers.

Social media companies face new competitors. TikTok, the short-video app, is by far the biggest threat—though its regulatory status in the US is uncertain. And there are always new entrants: BeReal is the app of the moment; here’s a list from last year.


Perspectives

“If Twitter does fail, either because its revenue collapses or because the massive debt that Musk’s deal imposes crushes it, the result could help accelerate social media’s decline more generally.” —Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, Nov. 10
“For years, most of the conversation about social media companies was about how powerful and dominant they were. These days? Not so much… the industry increasingly feels as if it’s having an identity crisis… Meta’s cash-cow social media apps — Facebook and Instagram — are in decline, with younger users abandoning them for apps like TikTok.” —Kevin Roose, New York Times, Oct. 26
“Unlike Facebook, Instagram still has a strong hold on young people. Around 7 out of 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 use the platform, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year… But Instagram is worried that young users may not stick around. The 2021 Piper Sandler survey, for example, found that Instagram was the third most popular social network among teens, with Snapchat number one and TikTok at number two.” —Sarah Todd, Quartz, Aug. 2
“I’ve been trying to talk myself into the social-media death-spiral idea, but it feels like the wrong framework to describe what is essentially just an evolution of the way people use the internet… You could say that social media isn’t exactly dying, but bifurcating. Apps like Twitter—which don’t really offer the ability to split status updates and broadcast capacities or switch to short-form video posting—and Facebook—which are essentially so rotted out by network decay—are not fertile ground for this kind of consumption shift.” —Charlie Warzel, The Atlantic, Nov. 1
“Is writing for a private, selected audience poised to eclipse writing for a broader public on social media? … Public intellectuals might still write on open social media, but the sector as a whole would shift toward more personal and intimate forms of communication. Again, this is not a prediction. But is it such an implausible vision of the future?” —Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg, July 29

Indicators

Measuring app users is tricky business in the best of circumstances, and it’s made even harder now that Twitter is private. For this forecast Nonrival is using data from SimilarWeb on Android users only, for data availability reasons.

Here’s the combined total of daily Android users across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat:

Here’s a look at how many Android users are added or lost each month: Most months the gains and losses are +/- 10 million total, or .01 billion.

And here’s a reminder that Facebook and Instagram are by far the biggest of these four apps:

Finally, a couple of prediction markets about Twitter (crowd forecasts are as of this writing):


Forecast

How likely is it that the combined daily Android users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat will be higher in Feb. 2023 than Oct. 2022? (>1.74B)

​~10% chance​ ​​​​

​​​~30% chance​ ​​​​

​​​~50% chance​ ​​​

​​​​~70% chance​ ​​​​

​​​~90% chance​​​​

Deadline: Make a forecast by 9am ET Tues. 11/22.

Fine print: This forecast will resolve based on data provided by SimilarWeb. Here's more on their data.