Breaking the Circle – Are Young People Turning Away from Social Media?

If ever there was a sign we’ve reached ‘peak social’, look no further than Channel 4’s new social media-based reality show The Circle. Like something lifted from Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi show Black Mirror, the show locks contestants in tiny apartments allowing them to interact solely through a ‘social media messaging platform’ called The Circle. The show takes a heavy-handed approach to highlighting the dangers of social media, forcing contestants into isolation, while simultaneously encouraging them to catfish each other to gain popularity (and potentially win £50,000).

What’s so bad about social media anyway?

The negative effects of social media are well documented – its time-stealing addictive nature, its potential to disrupt sleep patterns, its tendency to lead to us to unfavourably compare our real lives with the carefully constructed and airbrushed ‘online’ lives of others, its ability to dehumanise to such a degree that small disagreements can spiral into vicious verbal attacks within seconds; the list goes on and on.

“Social media is supposed to connect us, but it actually divides us - things like Snapchat, and Facebook, and Twitter - it actually makes my brain hurt when I'm on them for too long - I don't like them.” - Anna, 20.

And yet, the growing awareness of these negative effects seems to do little to change social media’s popularity with young people. Until recently…

Changing Attitudes - Is The Tide Turning?

Young people’s attitudes towards social media is shifting. A 2017 survey of British children found that 63% would be happy if social media had never been invented. Another survey from Ampere Analysis found that 18-24-year-olds’ attitudes to social media were changing with 57% agreeing that “social media is important to me” in 2018, compared to 66% making the same claim two years previously.

42% of respondents in Youth Culture Uncovered admitted that they had tried and failed to spend less time on their phone. There is a clear desire among young people to unplug and de-screen, but they are finding it difficult.

But, it isn’t just attitudes and desires that are shifting. It’s behaviours too.

A recent report uncovered social media usage data that may highlight a significant shift in how Americans are using social media. For the first time ever, fewer Americans are using social media than the year prior.

What’s more, usage of Facebook has also dropped by 5% down to 62%. Most of the defections come from the 12 to 34 age group, which is down in usage by 12%, but Facebook usage is either down or flat in every demographic age group, gender, and ethnicity.

This does not bode well for the world’s most popular social media network.

Twitter’s usage also declined for the first time ever. Its pattern matches Facebook’s with a bump between 2016 and 2017, and a decline in 2018.

Another recent study which focused on 18-24-year-olds in the US found that 34% of Gen Z social media users have quit one or more platforms entirely, while a full 64% have taken at least a temporary break.

Whether all this marks the beginning of the end for older platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or social media, in general, remains to be seen. However, if young people’s attitudes towards social media continue on their current course, there’s every reason to believe we may have reached ‘peak social’. Only time will tell.

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