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Teens have fled Facebook but are loyal to YouTube, poll shows

A Pew Research poll looks at how teens are spending their time online and how they’re accessing the internet

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Anyone who has talked to a teenager in the past five years knows teens aren’t spending all their time scrolling through Facebook posts. What social media sites are they staring at on their phones and computers?

They’re looking at videos, mostly on YouTube followed by TikTok, according to a Pew Research study on the social media habits of teenagers. Their interests are a mix of the old and new. At 17 years old, YouTube is the unrivaled dominant social media site for teens according to the study, with 95 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 saying they use the video streaming service. The next most popular option is TikTok at 67 percent.

Teens are accessing all their favorite apps on smartphones and computers, and the vast majority of respondents reported having access to these devices. Most teens — 95 percent — said they had access to a smartphone, which could mean owning their own or using a shared device at home. They’re checking their devices a lot, with 46 percent reporting they use the internet “almost constantly.” While about a third of teens think they’re on social media too much, more than half say they’re using it for the right amount of time.

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There are some gender divides in app usage. Teen girls were more likely to use TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat than boys, while the teen boys gravitated more to YouTube, Reddit and Twitch. There are a few divides in race as well, when it comes to social media. Black teens were more likely to use TikTok, with 81 percent saying they use the short-form video app, while Hispanic teens were more likely than other groups to use WhatsApp.

“The social media landscape for teens is dynamic and changing,” Pew research associate Emily Vogels said. “It’s worth remembering these platforms themselves are changing over time”

When Pew did a similar survey of teenage social media habits in 2014-15, 71 percent of teens reported using Facebook. Now only 32 percent say they’re on the app, but Facebook parent Meta hasn’t lost them entirely. Its photo and video app Instagram has the attention of 62 percent of teens, and Meta’s chat app WhatsApp is used by 17 percent of teenagers.

“We can’t say for sure why fewer teens are using Facebook. It’s not as easy as asking them why,” Vogels said. “They don’t know why.”

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When asked in focus groups why they choose the apps they do, many teenagers told Pew researchers that it’s based on where they can find the people they want to engage with most. Other apps that lost teenage users were Twitter and Tumblr.

The survey did not include chat and audio app Discord as an option, or many of the smaller apps that rise and fall in popularity among teenagers. In a focus group ahead of designing the survey, Vogels said teens mentioned apps they had discovered and already abandoned or seen close over the course of the pandemic, like group video-chat app Houseparty.

Pew surveyed 1,316 U.S. teenagers between 13 and 17 years old for the study between April 14 and May 4. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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