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4 minute read

Facebook's New Teen App Freaks Me Out, And I'm Only 23

Forget privacy: If you're a teenager, Lifestage is all public, all the time.

[All Images: Facebook via App Store]

Another social media giant is making a play for the Snapchat set.

Just weeks after Instagram released a new Snapchat-esque feature, Facebook has announced Lifestage, billed as a "video yearbook of people at your school." Lifestage lets users make a profile composed of short videos that reveal different parts about themselves: their happy face, their likes and dislikes, their locker, their favorite song, their best friend, their dancing and singing skills. The videos are strung together into a profile video, creating a multidimensional amalgamation of who you are that is viewable by anyone else who's on the app. You have to be in school to get access so it's clearly geared toward middle- and high-schoolers—if you list your age as over 21 initially, you get locked out for good. Users can also add their Instagram and Snap handles so that others can reach them in other ways as well.

If Snapchat is built on the more intimate sharing pictures and videos among friends (and followers), Lifestage is meant to be much more public. In fact, joining the app comes with a caveat. "Everything posted is public. Audience cannot be limited in any way," the app declares. And, the more sinister: "We can’t promise that anyone in a school actually goes to that school."

At 23, I'm a little old for the app—but not by much, and I'm still a regular user of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Lifestage troubles me. It seems to assume that teenagers today don't care about privacy, and will disregard it to have yet another app to aid them in the social rat race that is high school.

And it does so through alluring design that is similar to Snapchat's. When you first enter the app, you land on a camera and the app prompts you to update your profile. Swipe up, and you can pick which field you want to create a video for: faces, likes, dislikes, reactions, people, music, and the list goes on. Swipe right to see your profile. Swipe down, and you see your account—with the number of profile views and a number that seems to mark some sort of engagement by your name—as well as a search bar and presumably a feed of people you know. (Because I'm no longer in school, I can't see much here; Lifestage tells me to "grab a tissue in the meantime" because it's not available yet for olds like me.)

In essence, it takes the performative aspects of Snapchat's story feature and doubles down, offering a dynamic video profile aimed at hitting the teenage sweet spot—an easy way to create and share a digital representation of yourself that then receives external validation. That precious validation can come from anyone in your network: profiles are easily searchable by any teenager who knows your handle. Forget the days of Facebook-stalking a crush. Now you can check out their Lifestage and gather vast amounts of information about who they are and what they like.

Facebook is no stranger to privacy issues: The company has been buffeted time and again by users upset that privacy settings were changed without their knowledge. With Lifestage, Facebook is upfront that you'll be sharing unencumbered, highly personal videos with everyone you go to school with. The app has reporting tools built in and is tied to your phone number, which means that once you make an account you can't make another one, adding a level of accountability. Still, in an age of cyberbullying and catfishing, it's frightening to think that Facebook wants teens to relinquish even more of their privacy. It's something that I—a regular Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook user—would never consider doing.

The move could be interpreted as a play to increase Facebook's cool factor among teenagers, who have migrated away from the site in favor of Instagram and now Snapchat. But it's hard to say what value the app might add to adolescent life (though the 19-year-old project manager, Michael Sayman told TechCrunch, "I wanted to work on an app that my demographic would relate to, or at least that my friends would want to use"). It's true that plenty of teenagers share large amounts of information online, but it's also true that they're generally more aware of what privacy controls there are and how to use them. Facebook may be pitching the app as a way for teens to get to know their classmates better, but will Lifestage simply create more opportunities for teens to compare themselves to others, opening the door to cyberbullying and cruelty? Will teens be attracted to or skeptical of the complete lack of privacy—not to mention the inability to directly communicate with someone else within the app? Do they really want another video-sharing social media app when everyone's already on Snapchat?

Facebook seems to be hoping that teens do want to share their personalities and lives in ways that extend beyond a photo or even a video that disappears after 24 hours—and that they're willing to give up their privacy to do it.

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