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People are spending less time on Facebook, thanks to video games

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  • Facebook's over-18 users are spending less time on the platform, according to eMarketer, a digital media research firm.
  • The rise in online gaming is a big reason for the drop. Many younger users prefer gaming with friends to spending time on Facebook.
  • Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is the only social media platform eMarketer analyzed that's expected to see an increase in user engagement.

The future of social media is looking less Facebook and more Fortnite.

The time Americans spend on social-media platforms Facebook and Snapchat dropped last year, according to figures released by eMarketer Tuesday. And it's expected to drop further in 2020, according to the research group.

"Facebook's move last year to discourage passive consumption of content, especially videos, has impacted engagement," eMarketer wrote in the release.

Average daily time spent on Facebook dropped by 3 minutes, to 38 minutes, in 2018, according to the research group. (The estimate counts Facebook time separately from Facebook-owned Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.) The time spent by users in 2018 fell short of eMarketer's previous estimate.

The drop in video content is just one side of the story, according to eMarketer. The popularity of online gaming is pushing into the time people would otherwise spend on Facebook, said eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

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"We've seen a tremendous rise in mobile gaming and in watching videos," she told CBS News. "It's pretty easy to multitask and socialize when you're watching video. But you can't really do that when gaming," she said.

Many teens prefer the experience of playing a game with friends over spending time on older social media. That's one reason Snap is expanding gaming possibilities on its platform, launching Snap Games last month. Time spent on Snapchat stayed flat last year, thanks to the lingering effects of the platform's widely panned redesign last year, eMarketer reported.

Meanwhile, time spent on Instagram increased. Users are expected to spend 28 minutes day on Instagram next year, up from 26 minutes per day in 2018, eMarketer said.

Other marketing pros agree with these predictions.

"I don't think the Facebook user base is going to grow," Steve Weiss, CEO of MuteSix, an advertising agency focused on Facebook, recently told CBS News. "As Instagram becomes more widely accepted and understood, you're going to start seeing [the number of] Facebook users might flatten out or even decrease, but they might migrate over to Instagram."

Not hurting Facebook, they say, are the company's periodic data breaches. While the platform has been losing younger users, it's hard to ascribe that loss to the company's privacy flubs, said eMarketer's Williamson. And overall, the number of users is still growing, to 2.3 billion at last count.

"People will say, 'I'm going to spend less time on Facebook,' but the numbers keep going up," Williamson said.

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