Facebook Flight? No, Graduation Season

As more baby boomers take to the world’s most popular social network, the average age of Facebook users has risen steadily. But the site’s bread and butter, kids in college and high school, haven’t gone anywhere. Have they?

On Monday, iStrategyLabs posted numbers Facebook supplies to advertisers which show a decline in members identified as high school and college students from January to July. The 16.5% drop in high schoolers and 21.7% drop in college students appear particularly surprising, because they coincide with a 513.7% rise in users age 55 and older.

But before everyone goes searching for the new cool site where all these young people are flocking, I suggest looking at what these numbers really represent. They are not survey-based — no one asked Facebook users whether they’re in school. Rather, the data is based on which Facebook users choose to identify the school they attend on their profile pages.

And what happened between January and July? Millions of young people graduated from school, giving them reason to drop online affiliations with their alma maters accordingly.

Graduation alone might not explain the drop. Perhaps because of increased concern over privacy issues in the past year, many users may simply be choosing not to identify themselves with specific schools. These “networks” which were so instrumental to the site in its early days (when you had to belong to a particular to school to even join) are losing relevance as more of the general public enters Facebook and people cross-pollinate with many different groups. The company itself decided to place less emphasis on networks in June, when it announced it would be eliminating geographic networks from the site altogether.

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