How teens use #SocialMedia (written by actual teenagers) [PART 1]
Within this blog post, we hope to show you a candid view into how we, two 16 and 17 year old teenage girls, living in the South East of England, view social media and how it is used by us and our friends.
The majority of teenagers in our modern world today use social media and it plays a huge role in their daily lives. On the other hand, the way in which they use social media greatly differs to the way in which most adults utilise social media, in both the sites that they choose to go on and the way in which they use them.
Most teens use social media as a means of communicating with friends, whether that be through sending a Snapchat using the bee filter, so their voice seems to have jumped 3 octaves higher, or by posting a ‘candid’ photo on Instagram which only took 20 tries to get. For this reason, teenagers generally prefer different forms of social media to adults, as they try to communicate using the social media platforms, which are fun, quick and easy to use. This therefore explains Snapchat's increasing popularity amongst teens because it is instantaneous and amusing to mess around with, whilst Facebook is being used less and less by teens as they can get more visual, safer experiences elsewhere, without their mum commenting on every single photo that they are tagged in.
There are many preconceptions linked with how teenagers use social media channels, from the expectation that teenagers are deprived and send inappropriate photos to each other over Snapchat or that they harass adults on Facebook for expressing what teens believe are ‘outdated’ opinions. Even within the social group of teenagers there are stereotypes attached with how we use social media. For example, when going through Facebook or Instagram, every 15-18 year old is dreading the inevitable encounter with a ‘Twelvie’, that one friend everyone has who is twelve and thinks they are the coolest person in the world. They regularly post pictures of themselves with the caption ‘I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me’. The pictures tend to consist of poses which cause scorn and second hand embarrassment from the older teenagers, mainly because they remember a time when they thought that was a cool thing to do.
Likewise, even within the older branch of teens, we dread running into that one friend who has very strong opinions and is not afraid of saying them, whether that be through a post on Instagram with a caption a mile long or 100+ seconds on a Snapchat story ranting about some injustice they encountered that they just had to mention. This became particularly prevalent in the lead up to and the aftermath of the EU Referendum…#Brexit. Certainly in our school common room, you couldn’t go five minutes before someone closed their apps and locked their phones in disgust, professing that ‘Suddenly everyone’s a politician’.
Most Popular Types of Social Media in the UK (In Order of Popularity) and How We Use Them:
Facebook - created 2004
Facebook is the most popular social media channel on every ranking website and the stats are unsurprising. There are 32 million UK users and 1.65 billion users globally. It is one of the few types of social media which has an age restriction, as you must be at least 13 years old to create an account, yet, it is easy to alter your age on Facebook, which commonly happens. At our school, the only education we received on social media was concerning Facebook, as it was blocked on the Internet for anyone who was under the age of 13 to encourage this restriction.
The ability to input status updates, which inform everyone on your Friends List what your thoughts are about certain topics, where you are, what you are doing and recently, even how you feel about that, with the ability to input a choice from a list of emotions with corresponding emoji faces (in case the words feeling angry aren’t obvious enough, the small red pouting face makes it abundantly clear that you are not happy). Along with just a written word, you can input pictures or tag your location to a map.
Many see Facebook as the easiest form of communication and keeping updated with how the friends you rarely see are doing, particularly teens.
A common phrase bandied about by teens is “going on a Facebook Stalk”, which implies a lack of security and privacy. Whilst there are methods to find out private information about people including their phone number or email, unless the person has weak privacy settings, all you can see is whether you have mutual friends and their profile picture.
Whilst this tends to be a bit annoying to the girls stalking the guy they met at Starbucks, the lack of photos and information available for those who are not friends on Facebook is reassuring and fairly secure.
Personally, we use Facebook mainly as a way to communicate in group chats and to post the occasional photo album. The documenting of life events is very useful since one of our families lives in the USA and this way there is only the responsibility of having to respond to comments on the pictures/statuses rather than replying to long emails and attaching photos. Therefore, being able to see what is going on in our family’s lives makes Facebook the clear winner.
Many of our friends, however, who live in the same town or city as their extended family, find the Facebook presence of their parents or grandparents horrendously embarrassing. They prefer the anonymity of other social channels, as they are more private.
Personal image is something that is not stringently edited on Facebook, a fact that over the last year or so we have realised is actually extremely important. The yearly lecture the Sixth Form get from our Deputy Head of School saying that anything you post on a social channel you should be happy for future employees to see, only really became an actual warning once it became more popular for future employees to look up their possible hires on Facebook.
Now, we tend not to post anything that an incredibly religious and conservative Grandma would not approve of but we often see articles or hear stories about people who thought it would be funny to post an embarrassing photo of their friend drinking at a young age and consequently, that person has been rejected in a job application.
Due to all of these methods for people to essentially look into your brain and see out of your eyes, it can be seen as one of the most invasive social channels out there. Whilst many people do censor what they are saying and present a more polished persona of themselves, others allow this platform to be a place where they candidly express their opinions or images of themselves or others, despite the negative backlash this could have. The ability for people to form an opinion of you based upon your Social Media presence and persona is most obviously done through Facebook.
YouTube - created 2005
YouTube is the top website for uploading and viewing videos with there being 19.1 million users in the UK and 1.3 billion people using it globally. This is hardly surprising, as it provides a space for people to easily share content with a huge audience, which they have either created or filmed and viewers can find almost any video that they want to watch, all in one place.
More and more people prefer to watch something visual to read and teens are no different. Watching a ‘BuzzFeed’ video on the weird ways in which some fruit and vegetables grow (pineapple grows in the ground?!) appeals to us much more than reading a 1000 word article about it, with at best two photos. This is because we can be passive and relax, whilst still being informed and teens live up to the role our mums give us of being ‘incredibly lazy’.
‘YouTubers’ and ‘Vloggers’
‘YouTubers’ and ‘Vloggers’ are words which did not even exist in our vocabulary 12 years ago and adults still fail to believe that they are proper jobs, yet a huge number of teens use YouTube to watch ‘YouTubers’ who have created content for their channel and viewers, which can range from gaming videos to beauty tutorials.
Many of these ‘YouTubers’ also ‘vlog’ their day, which means they carry out their day-to-day lives whilst filming it and uploading it to YouTube. This appeals to teens as there is something fascinating about being able to see what someone does in their normal life, behind closed doors, similarly to how we read the Daily Mail to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip... because who doesn’t love a bit of gossip?
Most of the teens who go on YouTube will at some point use it to watch Justin Bieber’s latest steamy music video or catch up on Beyonce’s audio for her new album, as you can listen to songs for free and watch their music videos which is quick and simple.
The huge numbers of celebrity interviews on YouTube are also incredibly great to watch and appeals to teens, which we realised after spending an hour watching Zac Efron interviews.
A negative aspect of YouTube is that once a creator has posted a video, if it is slightly controversial or offensive, this could cause problems for them later on in their life, such as when applying for a job.
Twitter - created 2006
Twitter is seen as a way to express opinions in only 140 characters. There are 15 million users in the UK and 645.75 million globally.
Anonymity and Personal Image
There is a sense of anonymity attached with Twitter, as your followers consist often of strangers and some friends. This feeling of security enables people to be as forthcoming as they choose in their tweets, and in a society where extreme opinions are censored, Twitter has become a platform to post any controversial views you have, or any opinions you have on current events.
However, sometimes this can come back to haunt you, for example saying rude comments about your future place of work and then when your future employee searches for your name, these tweets come up, they are usually accompanied by a reply saying, you will not have to subject yourself to X place of work, you are not hired.
The use of hashtags became popular through Twitter (and now is used in a multitude of apps, particularly Instagram), as a way to sort out what information is seen by each viewer. By stalking a tag, you only see the tweets related to that, rather than having to sift through the approximately 500 million tweets posted per day. This streamlined search capacity makes Twitter a very convenient social channel.
How We Use It
One of us made themselves a Twitter account when they were a rabid fangirl at 14 years old. After six months of reading nonsensical tweets that they rarely contributed to, they gave up on Twitter.
Despite our lack of interest in Twitter, one of our friend’s swears by it, and will use it constantly to get news updates or information about her celebraties of choice. Interestingly, she also uses it to get people’s opinions on how her public exams have gone. Between May and June this year, she used Twitter after every AS Level examination to stalk the tag of the exam. She could see the national perspective on the exam, and hoped that everyone else would say that they too found it impossible.
From what we can tell, Twitter is not all that popular with teens, with only 33% of teens aged 13-17 using it. Compared to the 71% of teenaged Facebook users, Twitter is becoming outdated, just after its 10th birthday.
Instagram - created 2010
Instagram is definitely one of the most popular social channels utilised by teenagers. It has 14 million UK users, 500 million global users, and 80 million photos are shared per day. 52% of teens use Instagram, and unlike Facebook, it does not have an age requirement to become a member. You can refine your Newsfeed to only photos from people you want to see, which keeps the interest of teenagers.
Effects on Insecurities
It promotes showing a single snapshot of highlights in your life, and encourages editing the photo to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
Whilst it may fill you with joy to have that perfectly edited selfie getting over 100 likes, it does somewhat promote a feeling of insecurity, particularly among teenage girls. When scrolling through your Instagram feed on the sofa in trackies, a t-shirt and gross hair, coming across a picture of your best friend with legs for miles, perfect hair, flawless skin and a witty caption, it does not do a lot for your self-esteem.
Comparing a user’s everyday moments to the highlights of their friends or celebrities, enforces the societal conception of perfection and beauty, and can lead to an increase in the feeling of unhappiness amongst those who have insecurities (as we all do).
How We Use It
Whilst Instagram can promote this, we actually love the app. It is safe to say that it is one of our favourite channels of social media. Part of our love for Instagram stems from our love of pretty pictures and while we follow all our friends on Instagram, we also follow nature channels that highlight the beauty of the world and the places in the world that you will probably never travel to yourself.
We also follow many tutorial pages and funny admins. A popular admin that is followed by most of our friends is ‘TheLadBible’. Based on its name, one would assume that it is aimed primarily at teenaged boys and young adults. While the content posted by ‘TheLadBible’ is definitely aimed at ‘Lads’, the satirical way that it laughs at society and the witty captions accompanying photos makes it applicable to most of the younger users on Instagram.
Now, aside from your actual feed, the other aspect is the content that you yourself upload. Amongst teenagers it tends to be photos of ourselves looking our best, our family and friends, or occasionally the beautiful scenery or sunset that you encountered that day.
One of our friends in particular says that, unless she is in exam season, she has to post every 3.5 days so that people don’t unfollow her, and will time her posts so that she can get the maximum number of likes. That is not to say that she is being vain, but who doesn’t love seeing other people’s appreciation for a picture that means something to you.
The new update to Instagram that allows you to privately message other users makes Instagram much more of a Social Network than it was previously. However, it does unwittingly promote slightly scary encounters. One of us was messaged by a man on the other side of the world looking “for a friend”, to which we quickly shut the message and blocked the user. So whilst it is updating and becoming in line with other extremely popular social networking sites, it had felt particularly safe from ‘stranger danger’ until this new update.
The update has also slightly weakened the privacy settings that were previously some of the best we had ever seen. Before, if your account was made private, then any user who did not follow you could not see any of your photos, your profile picture or who you followed. They could see your bio, but that tends not to be too revealing. With the new update, not only can you get a message from anybody, but they also can now zoom in on your profile picture to actually see what you look like. Some of the anonymity of Instagram has been lost which we think is a shame.
That has not, in anyway, curbed the usage by teenagers. The easy control of who can see your photos makes it a place where more controversial photos would be posted as opposed to Facebook, because if you do not want people to see your posts, they can not.
Google+ - created 2011
Quite frankly, the extent of our knowledge of Google ranges from the browser to the email system. Anything other than that, including Google+, is a mystery to us. It is used by 12.6 million UK users and 2.2 billion global users. Given our lack of knowledge about what it is as a social media channel, having looked it up (on Google), it states that it is “a social network that builds off your Google Account”. From what we can tell, it is a way of blogging about your interests without having to have any sort of knowledge of other users. It seems like a more polished version of Tumblr.
Neither we, nor our friends use it, it does seem like a judgement free zone where people can rave on about their passions. That ability to speak candidly without repercussions is a trait that we think teenagers are seeking in Social Channels, and so perhaps Google+ will be the next big thing with teenagers.
Thank for reading Part 1 of this epic article. We'll be continuing next week where we'll look at Pinterest, Snapchat, Vine and more.
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What do you think of this amazing teen perspective on social media? Comment below please 😃