Meta wants conservatives back + Should teens be on social media?
A deep dive on what happened to alt right social platforms and why Meta should copy China's approach to teens on social
Ahoy Metamates! 🚢 🏴☠️
Do you even lift, bro?
It’s good to know that even the most respected CEOs are not above a fist fight. The only way this gets more epic is if Jezz Bezos is the referee ( with Lauren Sachez as ring girl, of course).
I’ve confirmed that Mark Zuckerberg is serious about fighting @elonmusk and is now waiting on the details (if Musk decides to follow through)
“The story speaks for itself,” a Meta spokesperson says re: Zuck’s IG post saying “send me location”
— Alex Heath (@alexeheath)
Jun 22, 2023
The Race to Capture Conservatives
Lots of Meta employees I’m friends with are pretty confused about Cox’s product strategy. First, the relentless obsession to clone Telegram. Now Twitter. On the surface - Meta has always been a fast follower.
But this one goes deeper. What do Twitter and Telegram have in common?
They’re both platforms with a high concentration of conservative users. 35% of the US, the region with the meatiest ARPU, identify as conservative (on some continuum between libertarian tech bros and hardcore Trumpist).
Screenshot of “Project 92” circulating on Twitter
A growing swell of conservatives is leaving alt-right social platforms for Twitter. Elon’s attracting a brand new audience with Tucker Carlson. An audience who feeds on fringe ideas, but also one that has remarkably high engagement and deep pockets. While outwardly it may seem that Twitter is flailing, reliable sources tell me that Elon is determined to take it back public in less than two years.
So what happened to alt-right platforms?
Parler sold to Starboard Value, an activist hedge fund. The social platform shut down days after. Parler’s new focus is building parallel tech infrastructure, hosting and payment processing for alt-right communities.
Truth Social gained steam initially but stalled at 500K MAU ( vs Twitter 200M+)
Gab got weird. It went from a mostly conservative Christian, build off grid homes and buy chickens type banter to so extremist, it makes 4chan’s /pol look like Neopets.
TLDR: Conservatives have nowhere to go but Twitter.
Elon may seem nutty - and maybe he is - but there’s a clear thesis emerging around Twitter 2.0 being a libertarian/ conservative leaning platform. Is it better to be the platform for everyone like Meta, or the platform for half the country like Twitter?
Some interesting data:
< 3% of what people see in their FB Feed is political content
A 3 year FB study from Media Matters: 6 of the top 10 posts that earned the most interactions are from right-leaning pages
In 2020, Ben Shapiro had 70% more engagement than the NY Times on FB
🔥 I highly recommend this deep study on FB political engagement from Media Matters, a democratic think tank focused on social media.
So what do conservatives talk about?
Source: PEW Center from 2022
To win against Twitter in the US, Meta’s Threads will need to walk a tight rope balancing moderation with engagement. At the end of the day, advertisers only care about engagement.
Should Teens Be Online? Not unless they’re in China
⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️Trigger Warning⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️: Discussing child safety online can be a triggering read for some. Please skip this, if the topic is too heavy for you.
While Kim Kardashian is perfectly happy with North posting on TikTok, other parents are not so sure about their kids being online.
Is there any hope for a safe platform for teens?
With Meta recently opening Horizon to teens, a move I see as incredibly dangerous, it’s critical to openly discuss how complex child safety online is. I’ll start by explaining the risks, what Meta’s approach is and then comparing it to the Chinese app ecosystem ( which in my view is better implemented).
The three big problems to solve are:
Where there are kids, sadly there are also predators
Time online vs. time spent in real life
Content moderation at scale
Safety is extremely difficult to enforce
If you think moderating a social feed is complex - enforcing child safety is 100000000x more difficult. Predation takes many different forms: from bullying, fraud, sexual advances, explicit images, dangerous ideology, etc. Its complexity is far beyond anything we think about when we moderate adults.
Frankly, I don’t think Meta ( or any other platform) is ready for this - and dog fooding on kids is just plain dangerous.
To fully understand the challenge for Meta, and Horizons, let’s unpack what dangers kids actually face online.
1) Sexual Predation Is Rampant Online
500,000 online predators active each day ( Only 5% pretended to be kids)
89 % of sexual advances directed at children occur through messaging
75% of teens approached by a criminal online do not tell a parent
Roblox knows this well. A recent report from MySocialLife ( a group that educates parents and teens on how to be safe online):
How does Meta prevent Horizons from becoming that?
It largely relies on parents for content control and moderation. (Meta news release). Not to state the obvious, but that assumes parents actually care, which sadly is a pretty unfair assumption.
Other proposed controls like limiting contact online only to people the teen already has in their friends or “people you may know” list also fall short. A determined bad actor can socially engineer their way to anyone’s friend list. Again, the assumption here is that parents are spending time screening who their teen interacts with online. Again, an unfair assumption.
To solve predation, the fundamental building blocks are (1) properly verifying underage accounts and (2) restricting their interaction with adults.
Identifying underage accounts
Source: Meta website
Meta’s current approach includes:
Collecting photos of physical ID
Partnering with Yoti, which uses AI to verify a person’s age from a selfie
Using social vouching
The problem I see here is that these seem to be used in isolation, not in combination. For example, Meta feels access to physical IDs is too high of a barrier to entry for teens:
Source: Meta website
Therefore, the next step following this logic is using AI. This seems to be Meta’s preferred method. Yoti, Meta’s current vendor for age verification, claims it is 99.9% accurate identifying a person’s age using a selfie. Child advocates are still unconvinced.
More about Yoti age vertification via CNN here
The age verification process should have much more friction. Maybe providing the ID of both the child and the responsible adult, tagging location at school or requiring other same-age users to not just vouch for you but verify your account with a set of secret question and answer pairs that would require offline interaction.
2) Preventing interaction with adults is not even half the battle
Even if we 100% solved how to prevent teens from ever encountering adults online - we won’t get anywhere close to making the Internet a safe place.
Content moderation for teens
There are three vectors to consider: (1) targeted attacks from people a teen may know/ bullying (2) fraud and (3) extreme content trends.
Can be impossible to screen for .There’s not a set of keywords you can apply to keep everyone safe. Moreover, it often involves people of the same age who are in the same social circle. In one bizarre case, a teen’s cyberbully was her own mother.
The counter-argument to this is that “ teens will do this whether they’re online or not”. While that might be true, what’s also true is that monitoring a teen’s activity on platforms that use ephemeral messaging is much harder for a parent (Horizons uses voice).
Fraud and extortion-
It’s pretty rare for a teen not to have some form of online wallet. Immersive online experiences open a risk for teens to feel pressured to spend their own money, or get enticed to do tasks in exchange for money.
Messaging also opens the chance for identity theft, skill contest focused scams or various forms of extortion.
Extreme content trends-
In the US, TikTok challenges like eating Tide pods, shaving your teeth or the coronavirus challenge (which literally involved teens licking objects in public in an attempt to get COVID) all became viral too quickly and fairly unstoppable by any level of moderation.
But- there are much more dangerous trends. VKontakte ( Russia’s Facebook) had a spike of bizarre and dangerous teen challenges - the worst of it “ the Blue Whale Challenge” resulted in over 100 teen suicides.
The argument of parents policing their kids from social media really falls short here - a viral trend + an impressionable teen can result in a catastrophic event in mere minutes.
Child-friendly social only exists in China
Tencent’s teen mode for Kuaishou
identity verification there actually works because it’s tied to a Chinese ID and phone number, which the government strictly monitors.
It’s pretty hard to sign up for any app - for example, to get a Taobao Chinese login as a foreigner, I had to submit my US ID ( front and back), 2 credit cards ( front and back), get a call back verification and wait 2 days for someone to manually confirm my identity. The process for age restricted apps is even more intense.
TLDR: If Meta really wants to be a teen-friendly surface, it has to partner with local governments + introduce meaningful friction at signup.
China doesn’t cut corners on moderation when it comes to teens.
Douyin for teens in China is the most promising attempt so far for the simple reason that the platform assumes responsibility for its content and practices and doesn’t punt it to the parent.
Chinese platforms started out similarly to Meta, by leaning on parental controls, but following China’s Minor Protection Act, they pivoted to acting as the parent themselves.
Intense moderation: all content is pre-screened by a human review board and focused on science and history topics
Time limits: users are limited to 40 minutes a day between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to ensure they get adequate sleep.
Consumption breaks: 5-second delays when the app detects you’re scrolling through the feed mindlessly
Livestream ban: Underage users cannot engage in livestreams, voice or any other ephemeral communication
Limits on retouching images: Xiaohongshu, China’s Instagram, has implemented policies against over- retouching for beauty
Protection extends to adult accounts: To prevent a child using a parent’s phone, Bytedance uses AI facial recognition for activities it considers risky like recording videos
TLDR: Meta’s reliance on parents for moderation is insufficient imho.
I’ll leave you with the latest statistics on Teen consumption in the US from the Piper Sandler annual teen survey:
Teen “self-reported” spending was up 2% Y/Y to $2,419; parent contribution was 60% vs. 61% LY
Food was the No. 1 wallet priority for males at 24% share; clothing was No. 1 for females at 28%
The core beauty wallet (cosmetics, skincare, fragrance) stood at $313/year (+19% Y/Y), led by cosmetics (+32% Y/Y). Most popular venues for teens were Ulta and elf
Weekly usage of VR devices stayed flat vs Fall 2022 at 14%; 29% of teens own a VR device
Video games are 12% of male teen wallet share (vs. 14% LY), and 32% expect to purchase a NextGen console within 2 years
SQ’s Cash App ranked No. 1 most preferred peer-to-peer money transfer app at 41% vs. PYPL’s Venmo at 39%
For BNPL, teens said they used PayPal “Pay in 4” most frequently, followed by SQ’s Afterpay
57% of teens cite Amazon as their No. 1 favorite e-comm site; Nike, SHEIN, lululemon, and PacSun took spots No. 2-5
Nike remains the No. 1 brand for all teens in both apparel (33%) and footwear (61%)
Chick-fil-A remains the No. 1 favorite restaurant at 13% share, followed by Starbucks (12%), and Chipotle (7%)
42% of teens consume or are willing to try plant-based meat, vs. 49% in Spring 2021
68% of teens have used Spotify for streaming services over the last 6 months, with 44% of teens opting to subscribe/pay for Spotify services
TikTok declined as the favorite social platform (37% share) by 100 bps vs. Fall 2022. SNAP was No. 2 with 27% share, followed by Instagram (23%)
Teens spend 31% of daily video consumption on Netflix (-100 bps vs Fall 2022) and 28% on YouTube (-100 bps vs Fall 2022)
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