Youth On Tech: Youth Opinion Of Social Media

October 2, 2019
Matthew Hellon
Research Executive

For the remainder of 2019 stay tuned to Research World for monthly articles that share the insights from a global survey with over 2,000 youths aged 11-18 years old. This series will explore:

  • How youths currently use technology, such as voice and social media. For example, did you know that 47% of youths have more than one social media account on at least one social media platform?
  • How youths think emerging technologies will impact their education, working life and healthcare.

In the fourth article in the Youth on Tech series, we look at the topic of youth’s social media usage and attitudes towards it.

in the spotlight

Pressure on social media platforms is at an all-time high. The Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, instances of racial abuse aimed at footballers, and continued uploading of violent extremism content has contributed to this pressure. This pressure is having an impact on the bottom line: Facebook’s market value dropped over $100 billion in just one day after the Cambridge Analytical scandal.

With an increased focus on social media’s efficacy, it is important to understand: 1) how youths use social media, and 2) how they feel about their usage.

high social media usage leads to parental monitoring

Unsurprisingly, social media usage among youths is high:

  • 45% of 15-18 year olds use a social media platform for at least 1 hour or more in a normal day
  • This drops to 22% for 11-14 year olds
  • 11-14 year olds 30 mins to 1 hour usage is lower than the 15-18 year olds, suggesting slightly lighter but still daily usage

This high usage means many youths aged 11-14 believe their parents monitor their online browsing history (63%). Furthermore, 11-14 year olds also have their time spent using technology limited by their parents who seem to be aware of the negative side effects excessive technology use can have.

youths are in denial or are unaware of this high usage

Despite high social media usage, youths are often unaware of their own behaviour:

  • 51% of youths say that they personally spend too long on social media
  • However, when asked whether people their age spend too long on social media, 81% agree. This shows that either:
  • Youths deny their excessive social media usage
  • Youths are unaware of how long they personally spend on social media and think that others use it much more than them

Denial about usage may also be linked to social media’s addictive nature. The more social media platforms are used, the more profit they generate. Persistent notifications, positive reinforcement, and many other features of social media are all designed to increase engagement. Youths are aware of this – 78% agree that social media is addictive.

youths admit to having multiple online identities

47% of youths have multiple accounts on at least one social media platform. This figure jumps to 70% for 17-18 year olds! These multiple online identities allow youths to be secretive and more experimental online. 44% say they keep a secret account only a few of their friends know about. Furthermore, 41% say they like to have an account that no one knows about.

This is common on Instagram, with different names for someone’s real (rinsta) and fake or fun (finsta) accounts. The former is a carefully curated feed that aims to give off a desired impression. The latter is usually used for friends only and consists of content specifically for that group such as private jokes or memes. The consequences of this can be two-fold:

  • Allowing youths to express themselves without fear of peer judgement or parental monitoring. This allows them to follow accounts and post content they are passionate about, but which might be socially undesirable
  • Allowing youths to hide nefarious or bullying behaviour online from parents

youths are conflicted on social media’s effects

In general, youths are of mixed opinion about social media. A majority consider it a fun service (86%) which facilitates connection with others (83%). However, many also recognise that social media bullying is common (74%).

older youths are particularly aware of social media’s negative effects

40% of older youths (15-18) think that social media makes them anxious and 44% believe it’s bad for their self-esteem. There’s a dangerous trend here. Older youths are more aware of the negative effects social media can have on mental health, and over half think they use social media too much. And yet, this age group demonstrates higher daily usage.

Q: Clearly youths social media usage is problematic. But how can this problem be solved?
A: Education & pre-commitment

One way to reverse this trend is to notify youths of their social media usage. 59% of youths would like this. Awareness of usage is important. However, it may not be enough to change behaviour, given the addictive nature of social media and wealth of evidence demonstrating an intention behaviour gap. Many apps have been launched with the explicit aim of helping people to curtail their social media use by offering the ability to block certain apps at certain times. This acts as a powerful commitment tool, where people can pre-commit to blocking usage, helping them to follow through on their intention.

That concludes our examination of youth’s current technology usage and attitudes. Next month we will look forward to how youths think future technology will impact them with a focus on their education and employment.

This post was originally published on Research World

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