This story was written by MediaGuardian.
From uncles wearing skinny jeans to mothers investing in ra-ra skirts and fathers nodding awkwardly along to the latest grime record, the older generation has long known that the surest way to kill a youth trend is to adopt it as its own. The cyberworld, it seems, is no exception. The proliferation of parents and teachers trawling the pages of Facebook trying to poke old schoolfriends and lovers, and traversing the outer reaches of MySpace is causing an adolescent exodus from the social networking sites, according to research from the media regulator Ofcom.
The sites, once the virtual streetcorners, pubs and clubs for millions of 15- to 24-year-olds, have now been over-run by 25- to 34-year-olds whose presence is driving their younger peers away. Although their love of being online shows no sign of abating, the percentage of 15- to 24-year-olds who have a profile on a social networking site has dropped for the first time from 55% at the start of last year to 50% this year. In contrast, 46% of 25- to 34-year-olds are now regularly checking up on sites such as Facebook compared with 40% last year.
Overall, 30% of British adults have a social networking profile, against 21% in 2007 when Ofcom first did the research. Half the UK’s online population have a Facebook profile and spend an average of nearly six hours a month on the site compared with four hours in May 2008. “There is nothing to suggest overall usage of the internet among 15-to 24-year-olds is going down,” said Peter Phillips, the regulator’s head of strategy. “Data suggests they are spending less time on social networking sites.”
James Thickett, director of market research at Ofcom, said that while older people seemed to be embracing social networking sites, Facebook and MySpace remained immensely popular with children under 16. “Clearly take-up among under 16-year-olds is very high so we cannot say for certain whether this is people in a certain age group who are not setting up social networking profiles or whether it’s a population shift which is reflecting people getting older and having a social networking profile that they set up two years ago,” he said. “The main point is the profile of social networking users is getting older.”