Meta has long been concerned about losing teenagers and young adults to rivals like TikTok and Snapchat, especially since that audience is highly coveted by advertisers. Facebook, which Mark Zuckerberg created in 2004 while at Harvard, was aimed at college students in its early years but has struggled in recent years with an aging user base.
Last year, 17 percent of Facebook users were 18 to 24 years old, compared with 44 percent who were older than 45, according to Data.ai, an analytics company. In contrast, 28 percent of Instagram users were 18 to 24 and 33 percent were older than 45, while 39 percent of Snapchat users and 30 percent of TikTok users were 18 to 24.
To appeal to younger users, Instagram and Facebook have in recent years introduced features like Stories, which emulates a Snapchat feature by letting people post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. They also rolled out Reels, a TikTok-like feature that lets people create short videos.
Last year, Instagram engineers were told that Meta wanted more people to post from Instagram to Facebook, said three people involved with the project, who were not authorized to speak publicly. That led to the new prompt, which was designed so most users would give Instagram permission to permanently share their posts with Facebook, they said. The prompt was placed where thumbs typically fall on a screen, one of the people said.
Meta declined to comment on what had led to the prompt and its design. But the company said not all Instagram users received the prompt and acknowledged that some had to decline multiple times before Instagram stopped asking. Meta also said a software bug last year caused some users to see the prompt every time they posted on Instagram.
“We know that people enjoy cross-posting content to easily share with their friends and followers across our apps,” a spokeswoman for Meta, which also owns WhatsApp and Messenger, said in a statement.
Tech companies have long encouraged users to stay on their services by tweaking their products, said Tony Hu, who teaches product design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One example are the pop-up windows that people click once to accept all internet cookies, which collect their data and track them online, he said. Another is how Amazon made it easy to buy items with just one click, he said.