Youth Online: Diversifying Social Media Platforms and Practices | rheacock | December 10, 2013


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Youth Online: Diversifying Social Media Platforms and Practices

Sandra Cortesi

A recent series of reports1 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Berkman Center indicates that young users share a growing number of pictures, videos, relationship statuses, email addresses, and cell phone numbers over social media channels. In the past, much attention has been paid to information sharing practices over Facebook. However, our recent studies reveal that youth have started to diversify their use of social media platforms, although Facebook currently remains dominant.2

Even though 94 percent of young social media users (77 percent of all online youth) maintain a Facebook profile, a significant number of focus group participants expressed decreased enthusiasm for Facebook, citing “drama,” an overabundance of mundane posts, and constraints on self-expression due to an increased adult presence. While youth are not abandoning Facebook, they are now diversifying their time spent on social media by adopting alternative platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, which invite and support different forms of self-expression. In 2012, 11 percent of online youth used Instagram. Also, 24 percent used Twitter, up from 16 percent in 2011 and 8 percent in 2009. The trend toward platform diversification is also confirmed in focus groups and explained as follows by one participant:

Female (age 16): “And so now I am basically dividing things up. Instagram is mostly for pictures. Twitter is mostly for just saying what you are thinking. Facebook is both of them combined so you have to give a little bit of each. But yes, so Instagram, I posted more pictures on Instagram than on Facebook. Twitter is more natural.”

Photography provides a good example of platform diversification. Snapchat, a platform where each sent image only lasts for ten seconds, is often used for “silly photos,” where focus group participants report making “crazy” or “awkward faces.” Instagram is perceived to be a more intimate and less judgmental space than Facebook, and participants state that photos posted on Facebook are more likely to picture family and friends, whereas photos on Instagram are more likely to include food or things they saw in the world. As one participant stated,

Female (age 15): “If I want to post a photo I took that I think is a cool photo, I wouldn't put it on Facebook. Just because I know that other people would be like, oh look, she's posting photos. She thinks she's artsy and hipster. And I don't want to be one of those people, so I usually just go to Instagram if I want to.”

Even as youth enthusiastically adopt these new platforms and use different platforms to pursue varying purposes, they continue to be regular users of Facebook. Neither recent survey research nor focus groups gave any sign that Facebook use among young people is dropping substantially.

Taken together, recent data show how central online spaces have become in a young person’s life. Services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not only platforms over which personal information is shared. They are central nodes for creative self-expression and identity formation and experimentation. As young users diversify their use of social media platforms, it will be interesting to learn how youth’s online activities evolve and, potentially, interact with future platform design.

Additional Reading

Amanda Lenhart, Mary Madden, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, and Aaron Smith, “Where Teens Seek Privacy Advice,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Teens (2013),

Mary Madden, “Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook Yet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Commentary, August 15, 2013, Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith, “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Teens (2013),

Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Maeve Duggan, Sandra Cortesi, and Urs Gasser. “Teens and Technology,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Teens (2013),

Aaron Smith, “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Politics (2012),


  1. The reports are based on findings from a nationally representative phone survey (n=802 adults and 802 teens) and two online focus groups (n=20 teens) run by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as well as 30 in-person focus group interviews (n=203 teens) run by the Youth and Media team at the Berkman Center.
  2. Mary Madden, et al., “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” Pew Internet & American Life Project: Teens (2013),

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December 10, 2013


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