Social media culture in Singapore
Now a millennial in my late 20s, I remember thinking as a teen that some grownups were such tryhards. “Act your age and stop trying to be cool!”, my young, judgemental self would think while rolling my eyes.
Fast forward to the era of TikTok slangs and all-time low attention spans, I now realise that the fate of becoming the “uncool adult” leaves no man behind. The newsflash that I was no longer a hip young thang myself came in the form of being told that skinny jeans and side-parted hair were no longer cool, but rather a way of identifying fossil people older folk.
And speaking of old, when it comes to the indispensable aspect of daily life that is social media usage, it seems that Facebook has unofficially become an old fogies exclusive. We take a deep dive into social media culture to see why Gen Zs find Facebook so cringey, and what social media they do like and use.
What exactly is Gen Zs’ beef with Facebook?
To get an idea of how far removed Facebook is from our daily lives, ask yourself: did you know that “Blood Donations” and “Facebook Pay” tabs existed on the homepage?
Image adapted from: Facebook
If you have a Gen Z in your life, be it a younger sibling or a whipper-snapper colleague, you’re probably familiar with their vocal disdain for Facebook. For the purposes of research (read: I was feeling kaypoh), I surveyed several Gen Z peeps to find out why exactly Facebook is such a cringefest to them.
Dusty ol’ corners of the Facebook universe left largely untouched.
Image adapted from: Facebook
The top responses chalked it up to associations with dreadful school work through Facebook group discussions, embarrassing family pics posted by “Facebook moms” – an established archetype in itself, and a general sensory overload with functions that the average young Singaporean would likely never use. Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Dating, anyone?
Image credit: Daily Dot
Rather than trendy posts and relatable memes like the ones you might find on Instagram and TikTok, Facebook is now regarded as an old-school message board for Boomers to exchange their Blessed AM greeting graphics every morning. Meanwhile, us Millennials caught in the middle of both generations have seen FB in its heyday, right when “poke wars” were a thing.
Before we analyse how FB fell from grace and entered what the youngins would call a flop era, let’s take a little trip down social media memory lane. Warning, major nostalgia is about to ensue.
Evolution of social media, from the days of MSN & Friendster
In talking about the social media landscape today and why Gen Zs are averse to Facebook, we must remember the ancient OGs. Besides just basking in the nostalgia, these also serve as lessons behind how almost every fad platform tends to pick up major steam at first only to fizzle out along the way.
Image credit: TechSpot
If you’re even older than I am, perhaps teetering towards Gen X territory, the name “ICQ” may ring a bell. The super old-school software allowed internet-goers to chat online through private messaging, long before WhatsApp and Telegram came to be.
MSN Winks – animated clips that would take over your entire screen complete with sound – were iconic. Who could forget the obnoxious Laughing Lady?
Image adapted from: Oikeistopoju
In later years, MSN Messenger became a similar but more popular alternative. And boy, did it give rise to a whole wave of culturally significant online practices from “nudging” your friend who always goes MIA to setting aesthetic display names that ~*LoOk LiKe tHiS*~.
Who else was guilty of repeatedly logging in and out so your crush would keep seeing your name pop up in the corner till he started a chat to say hi? Just me? Okay.
Image credit: xkomo
When it comes to staying connected and showing a bit of support for your friends’ online presences, the Chatbox or Cbox widget on blogs were a big hit as well. Not gonna lie, the Blogger and Livejournal era was kinda lit. If you’re not familiar, Chatboxes are basically HTML plugins which allow visitors to leave little guest notes behind after reading your blog.
Image credit: @tokxueyi
A big dose of nostalgia is expected among Singaporeans when you mention Friendster, the other social media app beginning with ‘F’ which preceded Facebook.
The social media platform’s USP was a feature called Testimonials, where you and your friends could leave sentimental and low-key circlejerk-y messages on each other’s public profiles. The equivalent to modern-day exchanging of Telegram handles and Instagram usernames was an eloquent, “Eh, write testi for me leh”.
And finally, when Facebook first picked up steam on local shores, it was the hottest site to be on. Yes, website. Back before the days of smartphones and mobile apps.
A big part of Facebook was sending in-game requests to your entire friends list, much to the annoyance of anyone who doesn’t play the same games as you.
Image credit: Digital Media Globe
We used it to “poke” friends, play games, and post on each others “walls”. Somewhere along the line, it seems to have lost its sparkle. And while many Millennials today still use it to share article links, viral videos, and personal photos and updates on their life, it’s definitely nowhere near its glory days.
Facebook’s slippery slope into its uncool era
“Facebook is for Candy Crush and long status updates from angry Boomers” – anonymous Gen Z who may or may not have hit the nail on the head.
As mean as it sounds, things just aren’t as cool and hip once you throw parents and teachers into the mix. Facebook became so widely used that even the grown adults – who took a little longer to acclimatise to the digital age – started signing up and tinkering with the functions.
Their demographic became so widespread on the platform that it gave rise to an unexpected phenomenon: Boomer memes.
You know things are serious when even our ministries start joining in on the fun.
Image adapted from: Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment
We’ve all seen them, and it’s become a meme in and of itself to intentionally share posts and write statuses in the tone of a Boomer aunty or uncle as if we were talking on What-Apps.
Another new age faux pas only made possible through the Interwebs is the uploading of entire family albums online by overzealous parents. It’s bad enough that there is photographic evidence of your awkward, greasy pubescent self floating around the cyberspace; but for Mother Dearest to post your childhood unglams too?
Image credit: Josiah Neo
Being tagged in the posts automatically shoots the damning photos to the Facebook feed of your entire friends list too, giving them plenty of roasting fodder to screenshot and send in your group chat.
Last but not least, who could forget that schools also started employing Facebook as a means for classroom discussions? And once you associate something with the dread of homework and projects, it’s almost guaranteed to dip in appeal when it comes to ways you want to spend your free time.
Image adapted from: Facebook
Add to that a general sensory overload with seemingly a billion and one functions and widgets which nobody even clicks on, and Facebook seems to be more draining than rejuvenating to hop on every night for a pre-slumber scroll.
Early users would also recall that the app used to be simple and straightforward, but there are now a flurry of notifications and privacy permissions which assault you once you log on. Oh, and did we mention the neverending stream of ads interrupting our feeds? Yep, it’s a lot.
So, how have apps like Instagram & YouTube stood the test of time?
Now that we’ve covered Facebook’s road to cringe status – at least in the eyes of Gen Zs – it’s time to cast a spotlight on social media platforms and apps which are still trendy and relevant. Instagram, although also housed under Meta together with Facebook, has stood the test of time and adapted to dwindling attention spans and a hunger for more variety rolled into a single app.
Here’s a name you haven’t heard in a while: Snapchat.
R.I.P; not that the app is now defunct but it might as well be – when was the last time you opened the app, much less still have the relic downloaded on your phone?
Image adapted from: Renae Cheng
Instagram Stories have pretty much rendered Snapchat obsolete, as they function the exact same way as Snaps do – while allowing you to broadcast your updates to your existing IG follower list instead of migrating to a different app altogether.
Instagram not only cemented its spot in the cool kids ranking of social media platforms, it’s even given rise to a whole new subculture and practice when it comes to posting online – the oxymoronic art of being intentionally low-effort. Enter, the Gen Z blurry photo phenomenon.
The curious practice has already been well-documented across the globe.
Image adapted from: Google
Although YouTube was literally founded in 2005, making it older than some Gen Zs out there, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single internet-goer who doesn’t rely on it for their consumption of vids.
If you’ve been around since the era of FRED, Smosh, and NigaHiga – you’re a certified OG.
Image credit: Web Design Museum
They’ve managed to set themselves apart from Facebook by continually improving and refining features to make everything more sleek, user-friendly, and “smart”. Think tech advancements like auto-captions which teenage us would never even have conceptualised, because it all just sounds so futuristic and out-of-this-world.
Similar to TikTok, one of the top “cool” apps favoured by Gen Zs, YouTube is also known for having an algorithm that pushes exactly what you wanna watch instead of requiring you to manually like and follow pages the way you would on FB.
Image adapted from: YouTube
The icing on the cake is YouTube’s sheer range of video content and duration. New content format launches like YouTube shorts also mean you have access to viewing material for every occasion, be it scrolling endlessly through bite-sized 15-second clips or delving deep into a 45-minute documentary.
While Facebook may have been relegated to old people territory, YouTube uses its content variety to its strength. Your lil nieces and nephews have their Cocomelon and Pinkfong, hip and trendy youths can tune into vlogs and music videos, and your parents and even grandparents can search up golden oldies all on the same site or app.
TL;DR: there’s enough space for all of us to get along and enjoy what we like, without making it a cool or uncool, young peeps vs old folks’ app.
Social media trends will come and go, so just do what you want
Following a blast from the Internet past and analysing why certain social media platforms are hits or misses, it’s safe to say that the ones which remain fresh and exciting tend to roll out new features based on consumer needs. Regularly refining the user experience based on feedback has allowed even older apps like YouTube and Instagram to hold onto their appeal.
In the same vein, while Facebook seems to be more of a mish-mash of functionalities that are neither here nor there – with wannabe Carousell and dating apps lumped together – the favoured social media platforms today have taken the best parts of their competitors and learned from them.
At the end of the day, as with all other trends, social media platforms will fall in and out of style. Every generation will have their “in” thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the newest and most relevant commodity for all of time.
Even retro fashion trends – like bell bottom pants and the Ah Ma-style giant claw clip – have resurrected into hot style staples in this day and age.
Remember Circuit Breaker when the Renegade dance was the hottest trend? Almost seems like ancient history now.
Image adapted from: The Smart Local
Instead of attaching too much meaning to what other generations think of you, just do what you like no matter whether your IC begins with ‘S’ or ‘T’. You’re a Gen Z who loves to keep it old-school and share memes on Facebook? More power to you. You’re a Millennial who’s the only one in your clique who actively uses new-fangled apps like BeReal? Stay young at heart.
The point is, life is too short to deprive yourself of what brings you joy just because somebody out there finds it “cringey”.
If you enjoyed revisiting the evolution of social media, check these out for more nostalgia:
- Nostalgic online games
- Nostalgic websites for Singaporeans
- Nostalgic hangout places in Singapore
- Shops loved by 90s kids that have closed down
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