June 6, 2023

Meta has long worried that teens and young adults will be snapped up by rivals like TikTok and Snapchat, especially since advertisers are so coveted that audience. Facebook, founded by Mark Zuckerberg while at Harvard in 2004, targeted college students early on but has struggled with an aging user base in recent years.

Last year, 17 percent of Facebook users were between the ages of 18 and 24, while 44 percent were over 45, according to analytics firm By comparison, 28 percent of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 24, 33 percent are over the age of 45, while 39 percent of Snapchat users and 30 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 18 and 24.

To appeal to younger users, Instagram and Facebook have in recent years introduced features such as Stories, which mimics Snapchat’s functionality by letting people post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. They also launched Reels, a TikTok-like feature that lets people create short videos.

Instagram engineers were told last year that Meta wanted more people to post from Instagram to Facebook, said three people involved in the project who were not authorized to speak publicly. That led to new prompts designed to allow most users to allow Instagram to permanently share their posts with Facebook, they said. The hint is placed where the thumb would normally land on the screen, one of the people said.

Meta declined to comment on what led to the prompt and its design. But not all Instagram users were prompted, the company said, acknowledging that some had to say no multiple times before Instagram stopped asking. Meta also said a software bug last year caused some users to see prompts every time they posted on Instagram.

“We know people love to cross-post content to easily share it with their friends and followers within our app,” a spokesperson for Meta, which also owns WhatsApp and Messenger, said in a statement.

Tech companies have long tweaked their products to encourage users to keep using their services, said Tony Hu, who teaches product design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One example, he said, is people clicking a pop-up that accepts all internet cookies that collect their data and track them online. Another reason, he said, is how Amazon makes it easy to buy items with just one click.

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