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Some have speculated that there could be an impending social media exodus. Many books, Christian and not, have been written recently about pulling back from phone use, curtailing social media activity, and other like themes. I have read many of these books and have changed some of my own habits. They are super helpful.
However, the publishing of books about the perils of social media and increasing negative sentiment regarding social media do not mean there will be an exodus from social media anytime soon. Just look at Facebook. Despite an apocalyptic year full of terrible stories about privacy violations and poor content moderation, their usage remained stable.
As long as the internet exists, there will be social media. Social media will change forms. Some will opt out. But I would bet my house that at least 75% of Americans will be social media users for the foreseeable future.
The last few springs, Pew Research Center has published new data on social media usage in the United States. This year’s data came out just last week. I wanted to write on it right away, but I was preparing for a long weekend vacation in NYC and had to prep my workload for that.
Finally got some time to look at the data this week. Let’s look at five of the biggest trends revealed in the data.
1. YouTube is the biggest social media platform in the world.
…but most people don’t see it as a social media platform.
You may read that YouTube is the biggest social media platform in the world and think, “Wait a second. YouTube isn’t social media. It’s just a place to post videos.”
YouTube is a social media platform. Countless hours of video are posted every day and millions of people are watching and commenting on those videos. Media is posted and social interaction happens around that media.
The survey says 73% of Americans use YouTube, and 51% of those people use it every day.
The platform is most popular among the youngest Americans surveyed. About 90% of Americans ages 18-24-years-old use YouTube, and 93% of Americans ages 25-29-years-old use it. The survey didn’t poll Americans younger than 18 (because they aren’t really allowed), but I am certain the usage statistics for Americans under 18 are near those of Americans ages 18-24.
2. 51% of American adults use Facebook “several times per day”; 74% at least once per day.
Facebook is no longer the “newcomer” in the social media world. Facebook is the grizzled veteran of the social media world, and it has had a heck of a year. It seems like there is a major controversy every week regard Facebook in some form or fashion.
However, despite the constant bugaboos that hound Facebook—whether it be how they use our data or the kind of content they allow on their platform—its usage remains steady among American adults.
Obviously, Facebook would like to see a growth in the usage of its platform among Americans, but considering the year it’s had, maintaining its usage percentage isn’t the worst thing to happen.
3. There is an 18% disparity in Instagram usage between 18-24-year-olds and 25-29-year-olds.
This was probably the craziest stat out of the whole study from my perspective:
- 75% of 18-24-year-olds use Instagram
- 57% of 25-29-year-olds use Instagram
I am 28-years-old, and I am shocked that there is such a disparity between my age group and the folks just a few years younger than me. The disparity is pretty stunning. I mean, 25-29- and 30-49-year-olds have more in common when it comes to Instagram usage!
But at the same time, when you take time to think about it, it really isn’t very surprising. Consider the two age groups and how different those times in life are for Americans. One group is largely in college while the other is out in the “real world.”
Basically, college-aged students use Instagram much more than their peers who are new to the post-college world. This is likely due to the fact that Instagram came onto the scene when current college students were in roughly middle school. Instagram was more ingrained to the social lives of our current college students than it was for people closer to my age.
America’s 25-29-year-olds received Instagram in college while its 18-24-year-olds received it in middle school. This, I believe, is the primary reason for this surprising disparity in usage.
4. Facebook is the most popular social media platform among senior adults.
…I mean…is anyone really surprised?
According to the survey, 46% of Americans 65+ use Facebook. YouTube comes in second at 38%. I believe Facebook is most popular among seniors for a number of reasons, but primarily because it was the first social media platform that pervaded senior adult culture and because, for many of them, Facebook is all about connecting with people from the past, like Classmates.com used to be.
If you only looked at that statistic, you would be tempted to think that Facebook will die when its users do—so many people on Facebook seem older. But the most prolific users of Facebook are actually the 25-29-year-old demographic, as 84% of them use Facebook.
But this isn’t super surprising. Why?
Facebook became the dominant social media platform when 25-29-year-olds where in middle and high school, just like Instagram did among the 18-24-year-old demographic.
Is there a trend here? Is it possible that whichever social media platform came into the lives of Americans in their adolescent years is the one most likely to stick with them into post-college adulthood? I think there is a case for that. I think it is more likely that today’s college students stick with Instagram for a long time rather than migrate to Facebook as they get older. But who knows? Time will tell. Facebook is technically more prevalent than Instagram among 18-24-year-olds right now (76% versus 75%), but if you know any college students, you know that they actually use Instagram much more than Facebook.
5. There are more Americans who use LinkedIn than use Twitter.
According to this data from Pew, 27% of Americans use LinkedIn and 24% of Americans use Twitter.
When you see super “woke” people on Twitter raging about why the latest “problematic” movie star deserves to be “canceled” because of something they said in a text message 10 years ago, remember just 24% of Americans are even on that platform and an even smaller percentage is paying any attention.
Twitter is home to some of the loudest social media activism, and yet it has fewer users than the corporate social media platform that spams emails every day.
I love Twitter, but its influence on our overall culture is overstated, despite the fact that the leader of the free world uses it as his primary communication platform.
All of this is to say: social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It will change in the next decade. Some people will opt out of social media. Some will limit their usage of these platforms (I know I have). But if social media survived the incessant bad news about Facebook and YouTube this year, it can survive just about anything.
The task for us is to learn how to use it wisely. It isn’t going away. Just look at how 2020 candidates are already using it.
Daydreaming about what “a world without social media looks like” steals valuable time away from learning to live in a world in which we are governed through it.
Forget a world without social media. Learn to live in a world shaped by social media.