Though one might assume that Generation Z – the generation who comes after the millennials – may show an even greater attachment to social media than millennials do, some evidence suggests that Gen Z individuals are actually turning their back on social media platforms and trending away from their use. It remains to be seen just how widespread the trend away from social media platforms is, and what its societal ramifications will be, but there does seem to be a backlash happening against the most popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat amongst members of the current generation.
A Reduction In Social Media Use?
A survey conducted in Great Britain found that approximately 63% of Gen-Z schoolchildren reported that they would be happier if social media hadn’t been created. Yet another survey, conducted by the research group Ampere Analysis, surveyed approximately 9000 internet users and found that there has been a substantial drop in social media interest within the 18-24 age group over the past two years. In 2016, around 66% of the 18-24 demographic agreed with the statement “social media is important to me”, and this level of agreement dropped to 57% by 2018. A third study, done by US research and marketing firm Hill Holiday, found that half of those surveyed who were born in 1995 or later reported that they were considering quitting or had quit one or more social media platform.
An interesting trend is that as younger people reject social media, older people have come to embrace it more and more. The users of social media in the 45+ age demographic ratcheted up from 23% to 28% over the course of the year 2017.
It’s notable that unlike every other generation, Gen-Z didn’t have to invest too much to learn the functions of the major social media platforms. They were able to quickly adapt to rollouts of new social media platforms and adapt to changes in them, courtesy of coming of age in the era that saw the introduction of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
Amongst those in Gen-Z who eschew social media, the perception is that social media use encourages people to live dishonest, inauthentic lives. They argue that social media usage is a continual process of creating and maintaining a carefully constructed image, a “competition for who can appear the happiest” and that displays of unhappy behavior are seen as merely “attention-seeking”.
Reasons For Deactivating
Lesley Bielby, from the Hill Holiday research group, explains that the nature of social media platforms is to encourage constant connectivity through the reinforcement of habits and neural pathways, strengthened by dopamine releases. Bielby says that this constant connection and responsibility can be overwhelming:
They’re becoming overwhelmed with the responsibility of maintaining their social sites and with upholding the somewhat inflated persona many have created on these sites, where they are constantly seeking approval via the amount of likes they get for any given post.
Another factor in the decline of social media’s popularity among Gen-Z individuals is the perception that connections made between people on social media sites are artificial and a cheap/unhealthy way of creating/sustaining relationships between people. Some individuals eschew the “number of followers/friends” metric that people use to determine how popular a person is, preferring offline friendships instead of adding many friends of friends one barely knows.
Other teenagers don’t want to quit social media entirely, yet feel they would benefit from taking breaks from it. A study done by Dr. Amanda Lenhart surveyed how people use social media and how they spend their time online. Lenhart’s study found that some 58% of the teenagers surveyed reported that they had taken at least one break from a social media platform. The most commonly cited reasons for the break include the fact that the platform was getting in the way of work or school obligations. Beyond this, other stated reasons include a desire to reduce the influx of information they encountered in a day and being tired of drama or conflict in one’s peer group. These reasons square with the research done by Hill Holiday, finding that around 44% of those who quit social media did so to use their time in better ways.
One hypothesis for the seeming disinterest in social media amongst Gen-Z-ers and younger millennials is that they have lived virtually their entire lives online and are now looking for privacy. Parents of these individuals often post hundreds or thousands of photos of their child online, broadcasting key moments in their child’s life over social media platforms. As a reaction to this, many young people may want privacy and anonymity to the extent that they can have it in our increasingly linked world. Posts that do end up being made to social media are more likely to be carefully deliberated on, carefully constructed to only reveal the information they want to share, rather than a constant stream of information as some others may put out.
Effects Of Social Media Use
Perceptions are one thing, but what evidence is there that social media is having the deleterious effects that those dropping social media platforms claim? Some studies have found that social media use is associated with increased stress. In particular, researchers from the Pew Research Center found that Twitter usage was a significant source of stress for men and women, though the effects of social media stress were more pronounced for men, as Twitter also has a de-stressing component for women. Other studies have found that stress increases along with the frequency of social media use.
In terms of how social media influences mood, research done in Austria during 2014 found lower moods after people browsed Facebook for just 20 minutes, while social media use has also been linked with anxiety and depression. One study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that those who used more than seven social media platforms were around three times more likely than the average person to have symptoms of general anxiety. Another Computers in Human Behavior study, done in 2016, found that those who were heavy users of social media platforms had a risk of depression and anxiety that was three times higher than average. Conversely, other studies have found positive effects associated with the use of social media. According to one study, “Microblogging and the Value of Undirected Communication”, social media usage may actually help combat negative thoughts and feelings by allowing people general, undirected outlets for anxiety and sadness. Other studies have found that Facebook usage, under the right conditions, can actually enhance self-esteem.
Its difficult to determine cause and effect from studies like these, and it may not necessarily be that social media use is directly responsible for negative moods. Social media is a fairly new phenomenon, and as a result, conclusive findings are hard to come by. Many studies rely on self-reporting, which has validity issues. Finally, many studies focus only on the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, not on social media networks in general. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are quite popular amongst those in Generation Z, while as noted above Facebook’s popularity seems to have plateaued or seen a small decline.
Much like any device or system, social media networks are bound to come with their own benefits and drawbacks, with the challenge being to find some way to balance the benefits with the drawbacks. It remains to be seen if the negative aspects of social media usage are manifestations of how they are used, how they are designed, or something else entirely and only time will tell if the drawbacks to social media platforms are too ingrained to be pulled out.