When was the last time you wrote a ‘status ’ on your Facebook wall? Ironically, the only time we get to see ourselves on the wall is through the platform’s memory’s feature, reminding us that true interactivity on Facebook is a thing of the past.

The over 60 million business pages on Facebook have blurred the scope for peer-to-peer interactions beyond all recognition, while the social networking site’s decision to go full throttle with ads has killed its original purpose of connecting people.

This shift, which results in users essentially consuming media news in isolation, has perhaps impacted teenagers the most. The percentage of high school students who express loneliness has increased by 14% in 5 years (2012 – 2017), a trend that has ironically been driven by their highly digitized lives and has a serious long-term impact on their mental health and development. Those repercussions, in turn, impact the physical health of this youngest generation of social media users as well.

In a bid to reverse the trend themselves, social media giants have taken a few steps to bring people back to the center stage.

It all began with Facebook’s News Feed changes in 2018. The explosive rise in publications’ pages showing up on our feed without our consent compelled us all to steer our communications to Instagram and WhatsApp. Exactly why we stopped posting on the Facebook wall!

Acting swiftly, Facebook pushed to reduce the frequency of such pages, claiming they wanted their users (and especially teenagers) to experience connecting with fellow users worldwide rather than just consuming memes in isolation.

Adam Mosseri, who led the change at Facebook, is now driving the much-hyped ‘like ban’ at Instagram. Addressing the anxiety-provoking pressures that the constant comparing of “likes” creates for users under 23, Instagram claims to be committed to protecting itself from becoming a battleground over social popularity. To depressurize young users, the app wants to do away with visible “likes” entirely, creating a qualitative and interpersonal photo sharing experience instead.

Facebook and Instagram’s vision for quality content and strengthened inter-personal connectivity may hurt businesses & influencers, but they hope in the process to reincarnate the values their platforms were built upon. While the two platforms were destroying personal connections, however, other social media platforms were emerging to take their place – and may already have a leg up.

Out with the old, in with the new

In an endeavor to produce a socially connected community, the France-based social networking app Yubo is catering to teenagers looking for long-distance friendships through live streaming. Not restricting its users to the traditional limitations of engagement through likes & comments, Yubo goes a step further with real time interactions through live video streaming, followed by the usual features of texting. The social media app enables youngsters to instantly connect with fellow like-minded people anywhere in the world.

The format may sound familiar, but Yubo has brought with it a novel approach to individual safety. The app’s algorithm, upon detecting nudity, interrupts the live stream with a warning to dress appropriately. Furthermore, depending upon the gravity of the situation, moderators may also disable the stream while providing sufficient time for the user to realize where they went wrong. Having more than 20 million active users flocking to the community app, Yubo is an impressive case study demonstrating how Gen Z responds positively to genuine social networking experiences.

These young users, which Yubo caters to exclusively, are looking beyond scrolling and tapping likes. This, in turn, has fueled the app’s growth by 10 percent every month. Committed to a safer social networking ecosystem, Yubo has garnered a reputation for authenticity over its legacy peers with its coherent outlook towards bringing people together. The ultimate goal: pulling teens out of solitude.

There are other platforms pushing for ad-free social networking as well. Mastodon is an open-source platform for empowering users to create their server nodes and share a variety of content. Similarly, Vero, unlike Instagram, is free of advertisements and offers a centralized algorithm to position your page. With a vision of giving social networking back to the people, these independent apps want to recreate the genuine human interactions that Facebook and its subsidiaries had forgotten for far too long.

Going forward – a collaborative effort from all

Although excessive marketing has exhausted the digital space, their role towards a well-informed shouldn’t be downplayed. By resonating with the behavioral needs of the users, especially those in the Gen Z pool, marketers still need to be able to rely on social networks as the bedrock of their industry.

The tradeoff comes in determining how advertisers can learn from the invaluable insights social media users provide, without overwhelming them with advertisements or destroying the personal connections that are supposed to define the very concept of social networking.