Everything I know about social media is grounded in what I see my kids doing on line. My initial enquiries into SNS, my fascination with FOMO and my obsession with social media experiences started with me observing how my kids and their friends interacted with Bebo and Facebook and how they interacted with each other. These were the crossover generation; the generation between “digital immigrants” like myself and the “digital natives” who had grown up completely immersed in technology. For them, Facebook (R.I.P. Bebo) had become an indispensable part of life and communication using this new tech, had become seamless. A gentle revolution in communication had occurred, and now, with the proliferation of mobile devices, this revolution would now seem complete. Smart device ownership among young adults has almost reached saturation point and engagement with on-line platforms is an integral part of the lives of young adults.
While this revolution was going on, Facebook, being the only show in town, dominated. It was the platform where everything happened, where we had our social media experiences. It was not unusual for us to see groups of young people sitting around, all glued to handheld devices, laughing, whispering, pointing, blushing and sharing the intimacies of their lives with their community. Nor was it unusual for young people to spend a large amount of time on Facebook. Parents, teachers, the media and academia all became interested in this new phenomenon and studies highlighting the dangers and negative consequences of Facebook proliferated.
All the while though, away from our gaze, young people have been quietly rebelling, as is their wont, and another revolution was taking place. While grown-ups were becoming more vigilant as to the dangers of Facebook, younger adults were migrating away from “traditional”, overt social media and were interacting with each other on new, more private media. Today, data suggests that, where young users shared information on highly visible, permanent platforms (Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram etc.) in the past, they are quietly transferring their allegiances to more invisible, temporary applications (Snapchat, Yik-Yak, KiK) and group chat (Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp). Now, instead of posting updates to the multitude, they are sharing minute-by-minute and through filtered selfies, to a closer circle of friends.
Last August, Pew Research Centre, in the U.S., found that 49% of smartphone users (18-29) used messaging apps and 41% used apps that automatically delete sent messages. In a study by Edison Research and Triton Digital in March 2016, it was found that 72% of respondents aged 12-24 said they currently use Snapchat, up from 57% last year. Among this demographic, Snapchat has now surpassed Instagram usage, which itself has grown from 59% to 66%. According to another Pew study, 37% of people in that age range use Pinterest, 22% use LinkedIn, and 32% use Twitter. These figures would suggest that messaging is a more important form of publicly accessible social media for this age group. That said, 82% of people aged 18-29 said that they have a Facebook account, but I am suggesting that having an account is not the same as using an account, in the traditional sense. I’m suggesting, based on anecdotal evidence, that young users are now checking their Facebook accounts to see what others are posting, rather than creating content; photosharing, commenting, disliking and liking happen increasingly in closed, private, impermanent spaces, like Snapchat.
There is little or no research, as yet, as to why young people are making this move. If I was to hazard a guess, I imagine the permanence of Facebook posts, that parents and indeed grandparents have Facebook profiles, and the fact that future employers, law enforcement and banks are examining Facebook profiles, would explain the attraction towards more ephemeral, personal modes of on-line communication.