Teen Survey Warnings: In Social Learning, Think YouTube, Instagram, Reddit?, Not Facebook


Updated on December 1, 2021

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The Pew Research Center’s 2018 “Teens, Social Media, and Technology” report follows a survey of the evolving habits of teens (aged 13-17) in the United States. The landscape has varied in the three years prior to the report, and has been evolving since then, but the trends are undisputed. A 2021 Pew survey, which includes all ages, tells us about the potential for an ambivalent relationship between social media and the public. Facebook continues to dominate, and while showing the least growth in the past year, it remains positive, with 69% of respondents admitting to using it, compared to 40% for Instagram next.

There is one caveat: 81% consider themselves YouTubers. But is YouTube a social media? Pew did not list the video site as an option before 2018, due to the fact that “social features” appeared later. However, while YouTube is the home of communities, asking if you “use” a site may not always be the same as asking if you consider YouTube a social network.


Overall, the percentage of adults in the United States who say they “used” these sites in 2021 is:

  • YouTube: 81%
  • Facebook: 69
  • Instagram: 40
  • Pinterest: 31
  • LinkedIn: 28
  • Snapchat: 25
  • Twitter: 23
  • WhatsApp: 23
  • Tik Tok: 21
  • Reddit: 18
  • Nextdoor: 13

Pew points out that with the exception of YouTube and Reddit, which showed a new alternative use, others’ posts remain statistically unchanged since 2019.

When it comes to young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, YouTube’s engagement rate is 95%, while Instagram has managed to take over Facebook, from 71-72%. Snapchat retains 65% of its users while TikTok reaches 48 users.

Facebook is no longer the main attraction. Its use (and its decline) appears to be related to income, with Facebook still being used by 70% of respondents with household incomes below $30,000 but only 36% of those with households of $75,000 or higher.

In contrast, YouTube is now primarily mandatory for teens, with 85% of respondents stating its use, and 32% considering it the most used. It is noteworthy that 3 years ago, Pew did not consider YouTube an option in the survey. When it comes to the network that teens use most often, the video site is second only to Snapchat, it is the most used by 35% of respondents and the third most popular with 69% of respondents as users.

When asked about the effects of social media, 45% of teens considered it “neither positive nor negative,” 31% “mostly positive” and 24% “mostly negative.”

MooTube Moodlegram Moo-Tok Moodlit

The second place goes to Instagram at 72%, up from 52% 3 years ago, when it was also in second place, but behind Facebook rather than YouTube. Delving into the reasons why teens use social networks (any one of them) and the positive benefits they gain, communicating with friends and family (40%), current news and information (16%), or with people with compatible interests (15%) are most in agreement, and may Outlines the rationale for increasing and decreasing use in the future. Other major uses of social media are entertainment and uplifting (9%), self-expression (7%), and “getting support from others” (5%). Learning was selected as the main positive reason in 4% of the sample.

Since the survey focuses on the end benefits, it does not provide any insight into the features or interface elements that would lead a teen to choose one site over another. However, the design of up-and-coming websites seems to contradict that of Facebook. Take Instagram. Acquired by Facebook in 2012, it has turned from an alternative to the giant’s most visible, relevant, long-term opportunity. Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, the founders of Instagram and CEO and former CEO, respectively, are cautiously approaching the lessons taught by Facebook’s growth, completely eschewing some of the practices that led to its early exponential growth. Some of the popular Facebook features that you’re not likely to end up on Instagram include a clunky interface, a large number of post content formats, and – remarkably – the ability to share someone else’s content (“repost”) with just one click. While Krieger and Systrom’s predictions were mostly correct, Instagram increased the number of formats after their departure.

Far from Facebook’s record of 2.8 billion users, YouTube’s 2.2 billion and WhatsApp’s 2 billion, Instagram has 1.3 billion users worldwide, with WeChat and TikTok behind the billion.

Above all, avoid risks

Social media has flaws too, and no app is without them. The most frequent reasons for their negative appearance were bullying and the spread of rumors (27%), its impact on relationships and communication (17%), unrealistic views of life, body image, and feelings of inadequacy (15%). A distraction and addiction (14%), or peer pressure (12%). 4% indicated that social media can cause or lead to mental health problems.

Many of these findings may have to do with the continued rise of smartphones, which 95% of respondents have, and never lower than 93% when controlling for gender, race or income. 45% say they connect almost constantly and 44% use it multiple times a day, while 11% only use it once a day or less. The survey did not distinguish social media as an outlet for “passive” content consumption and “active” sharing or broadcasting of users’ work and creativity.

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