What’s the current relationship American teens have with social networks? How do they utilize them, and how many hours do they spend in front of the screen? Researchers at the Pew Research Center, a famous D.C.-based social and economic survey study center, posed these questions and more in their recent study. They found that the preferences of the average American teenager have radically changed over the past decade.
One thing stood out above all: fewer and fewer young people are on Facebook. In fact, as of today, only one-third of teenagers in the United States use Mark Zuckerberg’s social network, which, anymore, is mostly used by adults. To understand its collapse, just consider the fact that the amount of teenagers on Facebook has fallen from 71% in 2015—when it was teens’ favorite social media platform—to 32% in 2022.
Which social media do American youth use?
Who has since taken Facebook’s throne? TikTok, without a doubt. 67% of teens say they use TikTok. Furthermore, 16% say they use it almost constantly. YouTube remains the most popular social media for all age groups, from adults to youth. Among teens in particular, YouTube use has increased by 10% in three years, from 85% in 2018 to 95% in 2021.
All other platforms are far behind. Only 23% of teens use Twitter, 20% Twitch, 17% WhatsApp, 14% Reddit, and only 5% use Tumblr.
But what’s the cause of this change in American teens? The Pew’s study doesn’t explain it, as it’s only a basic, quantitative survey. But we absolutely know why TikTok is taking the place of Facebook for Gen Z. Scrolling through TikTok, we can clearly see that it’s an engaging, creative social network with an intuitive interface with lots of short, intriguing, funny videos. Gen Z—people born between 1997 and 2012—is the first generation to have grown up with Internet access. They are “digital natives” who are used to technology and social media. Practically since birth, they have been accustomed to creating content and sharing it on the Internet. TikTok offers its users just that: the opportunity to feel creative and express oneself in an original way, without adhering to rigid structures. It’s a social network fit for the bohemian, the free, and the nonconforming artist. TikTok is almost like a mirror or window: showing teens in their bedrooms, where they showcase their personal identity and lifestyle. Other social networks, especially Facebook, don’t have this feature and have a more rigid, classic structure, with different streams of content. Facebook was created to connect College friends. It shows content from friends and users we follow in a newsfeed. This editorial set-up is now completely outdated. TikTok’s algorithm, on the contrary, successfully aims to feed users’ interests with chains of short videos that reflect their personal interests. It uses a Discovery Engine modality—like a search engine that brings users to discover new things, causing them to spiral down some rabbithole, and no longer a familiar space where they follow the lives of their friends and loved ones.
Social media and difference in gender and ethnicity
Beyond the data, interesting differences in Internet and social media use by gender, ethnicity, and income level are also shown in this study. Boys, for example, are more likely to use YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit (all of which are popular amongst gamers), while girls reported being on TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat more often. Black and Hispanic teens appear to be on the Internet more frequently than their Caucasian counterparts. Finally, “constant” Internet use was recorded more frequently among teens living in households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $75,000.
An escape from social media is far away
The Pew Research Center also asked young Americans how aware they are of their Internet use. Most of them, (55%) say they spend the right amount of time on these apps and sites, while about one-third of teens (36%) acknowledge that they spend too much time on social media. Only 8% of teens think they spend too little time on these platforms.
When asked about the idea of giving up social media, 54% of teens say it would be at least a little difficult to give it up. In contrast, only 15% of them say that giving up social media would be very easy and they could do it without any problems.
In short, the escape from social media for young Americans is still a long way off, too often at the expense of their own privacy. But our suggestion is still the same: social media is good and useful, but only when used with some common sense.