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Facebook is still trying to figure out what teens are interested in

Facebook is restructuring its “youth team,” shutting down its new teen meme app LOL, and doubling down on Messenger Kids.

A group of young women hold their phones up to take pictures of an event. Phil Noble - Pool/Getty Images

Facebook is still trying to figure out what kind of apps young people want to use.

Meme apps? Not so much. Messaging apps for elementary school kids? Yes, apparently so.

At least, that’s what we’ve deduced from Facebook’s decision to restructure its “youth team,” the organization of more than 100 employees specifically tasked with building products and features for young people.

The team was alerted late last week that multiple projects — including a meme app called LOL aimed at high school kids — will be shuttered, and many members of Facebook’s youth team will instead start working on Messenger Kids, according to two sources. Messenger Kids is Facebook’s year-old messaging app for children who are under 13 and therefore too young to sign up for Facebook’s regular service.

LOL never got much traction. Facebook described it a few weeks back as a “small scale test,” and TechCrunch reported that it only had around 100 beta users. Also going away: An early version of a high school communities feature that would let teens find and connect with classmates, a nod to Facebook’s earliest days when it was a directory for colleges and universities.

The company’s “youth team,” though, is not going away, according to a Facebook spokesperson. The plan is to cut down on a number of smaller projects that the group is testing and instead focus on stuff that Facebook believes is more successful. Messenger Kids, despite all kinds of privacy concerns from outside organizations, appears to fall into that category.

“The youth team has restructured in order to match top business priorities, including increasing our investment in Messenger Kids,” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed in a statement sent to Recode.

It’s always interesting to understand how Facebook is targeting teens — a valuable demographic with advertisers and a group generally lauded for identifying “the next big thing.” (Facebook, you’ll remember, started with college students. So did Snapchat.)

Many believe that Facebook has lost touch with teens — data shows that teenage users are leaving Facebook for other services — which is why the company has more than 100 employees focused on building products exclusively for that demographic.

Facebook even made headlines last week for paying some users, including teenagers, as much as $20 per month to use an app that collected data on how they used their smartphone. Facebook called it “market research.”

That data collection actually violated an agreement Facebook had with Apple and led to a chaotic day at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters after Apple blocked the special Facebook apps that are used by internal employees. The apps were restored less than 48 hours later.

A Facebook spokesperson says the youth team restructuring is “unrelated” to the company’s “market research” project. Asked if the research app was a youth team project, the same spokesperson said, “No.”

Facebook’s youth team was created back in early 2016 and has seen a number of projects come and go since then. A Snapchat-style competitor called LifeStage, which was limited to teens, was a youth team project until it was pulled from the App Store in August 2017. Last July, Facebook also shut down TBH, another app for teens that let users anonymously answer questions about themselves and their friends.

Facebook will continue to build other teen-focused products besides Messenger Kids, though it hasn’t yet shared those plans publicly. Other than Instagram, which it acquired, and Stories, which it copied from Snapchat, Facebook hasn’t had a breakout hit with teens since, well, Facebook.

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