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Teens aren’t fleeing Facebook as quickly as we thought

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., watches a presentation during the Facebook F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. ( David Paul Morris/Bloomberg )
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The technology world moves fast, especially where social media is concerned. Sometimes it can seem like there's a new "Facebook-killer" on tap every week -- especially if you have a tech reporter's inbox. And the rumors of that ten-year-old network's death seem to be even more frequent, with reports saying that teenagers are killing its growth prospects by turning to other options.

But, with the Meerkats, Periscopes and Snapchats of the world now vying for attention, it's not always clear how teens are really using social media these days. To explore the question, The Pew Research Center asked over 1,000 respondents, between ages 13 and 17, for their thoughts, and included them in a report published Thursday.

Here are few key takeaways:

  • Teen smartphone use is super, super high. A majority of teens have smartphones -- a fact that doesn't change even when looking at different income levels. Of teens who live in households that make less than $30,000 per year, 61 percent have access to a smartphone. Among the richest teens (households over $75,000), it's 78 percent.  Overall, a full 73 percent of teens have access to a smartphone; only 15 percent are rocking a basic phone. That also falls in line with what Pew found about adult smartphone use in a report released last week.
  • Those anonymous apps? Not as popular as we may have thought. According to the Pew study, only 11 percent of all teen cell phone users use anonymous apps such as Whisper, YikYak and Ask.FM, which allow users to put up posts without revealing their identity. When these apps first came on the scene, they were seen as an outlet for teens who didn't want to be haunted by a digital footprint down the line. But the use isn't quite as high as researchers predicted. The study also found that girls use these sites slightly more than boys -- 13 percent of female respondents versus 8 percent among males.
  • Facebook is still the number-one social media network among teens. Put your alarm bells away for now; Facebook isn't exactly withering on the vine among teens. Facebook is used by 71 percent of all teens, followed in popularity by the Facebook-owned Instagram and Snapchat. Even within the 13-17 age group, however, there are differences in Facebook use. Older teens, ages 15 to 17, are far more likely to use Facebook than younger teens, listing it along with Snapchat and Twitter as their go-to networks. The 13- and 14-year-olds, meanwhile, told researchers they are more likely to turn to Instagram.

It may sound silly to talk about differences in use between teens who are so close in age, Amanda Lenhart, associate director of research at Pew, said that researchers are seeing "micro-generations" form on social media.

"An older brother uses [social media] differently than his younger sister," she said, hypothesizing that could be because younger kids tend to get smartphones at a much younger age, she said.

Lenhart said that it's a little early to tell how these behaviors -- particularly the movement between platforms -- will affect the social media world down the line. Younger teens may be starting a new pattern, she said, but they may also eventually shift their behaviors to be where the older teens are down the line.

What we are seeing for sure is a "diversification of social media platforms," she said. Teens are "not leaving Facebook; they hold onto those profiles," she said. They don’t necessarily use them as much, though, and instead spend time on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter,  Vine and many other social media platforms, she added.

The report also reveals interesting trends in how media use changes when looking teens at different socioeconomic levels, For example, those of lower incomes tend to use Facebook most, while those of higher incomes tend more toward services such as Snapchat.

Researchers also found that teens in general feel that sites that focus more on pictures rather than text tend to feel cleaner and easier to manage than text-heavy networks. In that way, a picture really may be worth a thousand words. (Or emojis. Whatever.)

Lenhart said that when looking at social media, it's important to remember that social networks are an ecosystem, and that growing use on one doesn't necessarily mean that others aren't being used, too.

Facebook is "an important part of the ecosystem that teens swim in, though the ecosystem is now much busier than it used to be," she said. "But social media is not just one island, it's an archipelago. And teens are swimming from site to site."