The number of active Belgian Facebook users has fallen by 7.3% between February and August, to 6.8 million, Consultant Xavier Degraux revealed on Friday in his study on digital marketing and social networks.
The decline now affects all age groups, he specified. A year and a half ago, the world's largest social network reached its peak in Belgium with 7.5 million active accounts.
This was just before the revelation that Analytica Cambridge used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to send targeted publications on Brexit and on Donald Trump.
Degraux bases his results on advertising, seeing Facebook does not communicate its figures. In his previous analysis earlier this year Belgians still seemed to be loyal to Mark Zuckerberg’s network launched early 2004.
"The effects of the Cambridge Analytica scandal were slow to be felt, but for six months, the decline has been accelerating significantly, even if the infiltration rate is still very high," he said.
In the analysis, it appears that the decline among younger generations is no longer compensated by the growth of older profiles.
In the last six months, all age groups have dropped: 13-17 years, - 5%; 18-24, -7%; 25-54, -13%; 55-64, -8.5%; and -7% among those 65 and older.
Users’ engaged interaction with publications they come across is also decreasing (3.5% in 2018, against 8% a year earlier).
The results could also be more "serious", because consulting once a month is enough to be recognized as an active user. "There is probably also a decline in use," Degraux said.
These half-mast figures can be explained by a series of factors, the consultant explained.
There is greater sensitivity to the use of personal data, which is a direct result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook suffers the most from this trend, even though other networks also face revelations of breach of privacy.
The speed with which "fake news" spread on Facebook is probably why. Only 20% of Belgians still trust social media, according to EU Broadcasting’s most recent study.
Lastly, practices are changing, Degraux explained. WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram have taken over: all three are owned by Facebook.
Instagram really exploded last year in Belgium, going over the bar of 3 million users, unlike Snapchat which fell by more than 10%.
Facebook has a hard time innovating; it has become "complex" and was unable to impose its "stories" or Facebook Watch, Degraux said. The trend will continue, and other platforms will grow, he predicted.
But the situation is far from hopeless, Degraux added. The first social network in the world continues to attract massive investments by advertisers, who achieve excellent results, and still show rising sales, he said.
The Brussels Times