Hey everyone! Meet my friend Lucia – she is the perfect person to give you an updated perspective on how teens are using social media in 2021, based on her personal experiences and the observations she’s made among her peer group. I think she deeply understands the draw and attraction of particular apps, and has thought through some of the negative implications for user well-being and mental health. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll pass them on for Lucia to address in the Comments! ~Sameer
Hi! My name is Lucia and I am currently a senior at a high school in South Florida. By just reading this you wouldn’t know that I wrote that sentence about an hour ago, before I took what I thought was going to be a “short” break on my phone. Social media is a portal that’s so easy to fall into when accessed. Whether we’re sending our friends memes on Instagram or posting our mouthwatering dinner on our Snapchat stories, social media connects each and every one of us in one way or another. That being said, social media is also not always all fun and games. From bullying to mental health related issues, social media can quickly go from being a unicorn to a plain horse.
At first glance, social media is absolutely fascinating and one of the biggest benefits to our society in today’s day and age. Because of the growing technological advances happening every day, we have so many different social media platforms to choose from and use. As a teenager I’d say that the platforms my friends and I use the most are Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tiktok, Whatsapp, YouTube, and Twitter.
As a portal, social media gives us the ability to be anywhere in the world at any time. Platforms such as Snapchat and Whatsapp let us communicate directly with those in the next room or across the ocean in the next continent. Platforms like Instagram and Tiktok provide us with a door to every user’s life that when opened lead to posts which hold a summary of themselves. Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest hand us the ability to communicate with others acting as idea generators and becoming the receipts of our generation’s thoughts and interests. Those along with countless other platforms allow us to truly do anything we put our minds to. Allowing many to feel less isolated by giving them an escape, assisting in developing social skills, providing information about new cultures and societal ideas/issues, and empowering all to be creative and express themselves are just a few of the many ways social media can benefit all users.
I would definitely say that Instagram is one of my top three out of the apps I use the most. As a place where you can post pictures and videos to your profile or story, Instagram is really a world of its own. When you open the app you’re immediately met with your feed. This is where all of the posts made by the accounts you follow can be found. On any given day you’ll be able to see someone’s selfie, a typical florida beach picture, some vacation photos, memes, food or pet pictures, or- during these crazy times- a mask picture.
Personally, Instagram is where I go to keep up with my friend’s lives. I scroll through the countless pictures of past and current friends and get a look into how and what they’re doing. As I scroll I leave them a quick message of support by double tapping on the pictures which sends them a like. It’s also a great platform to share and follow what’s important to you. For example, I have another account for my photography where I post my pictures, but accounts can be used for personal reasons, non-profit organizations, companies, teams, or even school clubs.
One of my favorite features on Instagram is the Explore page. As the platform takes in information on what you like, it sets up an explore page that’s based on your personal interests. I would say most of us use the explore page when we get a little bored of the people we follow, or even when no one’s really posting anything so there’s nothing new to see. The explore page is endless so you can scroll as much as you want for as long as you want. The best part about it is if you find a picture you like such as a funny meme you can click it and when you start scrolling again it’ll show you more pictures just like that one.
Snapchat & WhatsApp
In today’s society, Snapchat has become close to a necessity. When you meet someone new you really don’t ask for their number anymore, instead, you ask for their “Snap”. Snapchat has become the new iMessage in a way- and honestly I’m not against it. With features like a snap story, Snapchat lets you take a peek into what everyone is doing in the moment.
Something that’s becoming more and more popular is called a “priv” or “private story.” It’s really exactly what it sounds like- a story that’s private. It’s become a trend to name these private stories something funny such as “behind the scenes” or “after hours”. These stories are places where the creator posts things they wouldn’t necessarily want everyone to see. Because you can add the specific people you want to the story, they usually consist of close friends that you feel comfortable with. It can be used to tell your friends about a shocking story that happened, post a video of something funny you did, or even post a hundred embarrassing pictures of your friend for their birthday.
I would say the reason why this generation has deemed snapchat as our first source of communication is because of how it combines its original purpose of sending pictures, with the text feature that acts as normal text messaging. Because we’re able to send pictures of ourselves or what we’re doing while we talk, Snapchat takes social media communication to a new level by making it feel a little more realistic/ in person. The best part about snapchat is definitely the flashback feature which lets you look back and see the pictures you took and saved on that specific day.
On the other hand, WhatsApp is also the platform for communication nowadays. Being from Argentina, the majority of my family lives in South America. WhatsApp has really allowed me to keep in touch when I’m not with them during summer. Because it’s free and you don’t have to pay for services such as texting or video chatting, many individuals with family members across the world use WhatsApp for communication, such as family group chats. Other group chats that are popular on the social media platform are college students groups. It’s very common to receive a link to a college class’ group chat within the first few days of the semester to have a place where students can help one another with any questions they may have- regardless of the type of phone, network, or other variabilities.
YouTube & Pinterest
Although I don’t personally use YouTube a whole lot, it is very popular throughout all ages. Like Pinterest, it’s a platform that’s used for our creative minds. On any given day I’ll walk past my dad watching a YouTube video on how to fix a broken part on our car or in our kitchen. On the other hand, my brothers use YouTube to watch their favorite “creators” stream popular games they like such as FIFA or Call of Duty. When I do use YouTube, I’m most likely either watching my professor’s lectures that are posted on the platform or some random video my friend sent me. My boyfriend uses YouTube for its music streaming service which I don’t think a lot of people pay attention to because of its competitors but is actually pretty cool. YouTube is pretty much a big melting pot. There’s a little bit of everything for our creative minds. From tutorial videos to vlogs to streams, I would say our generation uses YouTube to bring their ideas to life.
In my opinion, Pinterest is way better. I absolutely love Pinterest and use it all the time. As I said before, this is a platform where ideas roam free. Personally, I love to use Pinterest when I’m making a birthday gift for a friend/ family member or sending a care box to a friend in another state. Something that’s really big on Pinterest is a “DIY”. Standing for “do it yourself”, DIYs are projects you can do quite literally yourself. They practically provide you with instructions on how to create anything you want without having to buy it. A lot of my friends use Pinterest for their boards, which are places where you can “pin” the pictures you like from Pinterest and group them together based on the criteria they choose which can be absolutely anything. These can then lead to the making of your personal “aesthetic” as people like to call it. Your aesthetic can be defined as the type of person you are. If someone has pictures of outfits with lots of layers, stripes, dark colors, and jewelry, their aesthetic could be “classified” as a skater girl/boy.
TikTok has grown to be very popular very quickly throughout the last three years or so. I’d definitely say it’s one of my favorite platforms. It’s whole deal is sort of like Instagram in the sense that you follow accounts, you have your own profile, and then you have a page where you see content that’s chosen for you based on what you like which on TikTok is called the “For You Page”. I absolutely love TikTok although I will admit that I do get a little lost in the whole platform and end up spending hours on it at a time. It’s super easy to use and really entertaining at times. I can’t even count the amount of breaks I take while doing homework where I’ll unlock my phone and go straight to TikTok. Each video can range between 5 to 60 seconds and can be about absolutely anything. Even though it’s a social media platform, I’ll actually admit that I use it as a search engine at times. When I want to make a specific recipe or know the location of a popular hiking trail I’ll open up TikTok and search the name of what I’m looking for to then spend an hour watching videos on the topic that will provide me with answers.
Something really cool about TikTok is the different categories within it. These can be about absolutely anything. Because your For You page is customized towards your interests, you can be on different “toks”. For example, as a reader and animal lover, I tend to be on “Booktok” and “Dogtok”, meaning that my For You Page will be filled with videos about books and dogs – along with the occasional Charli D’Amelio dancing videos. There are so many different trends and videos across so many different interests which makes TikTok such a popular social media platform for our generation.
Where do I even start with this one? Twitter has definitely grown to become vital in having a social media presence as well as a voice in today’s world. Honestly, I don’t use Twitter. Although I have it downloaded on my phone, I probably open it once a month when I’ve completely wrung every last bit of content out from all the other platforms I use. Regardless, it’s truly been on the rise especially during the times we’re experiencing right now- both politically and globally with the pandemic. Twitter really gives us a voice. It’s kind of crazy actually. Not only does it allow anyone to speak what’s on their mind but it also brings an audience together for those reasons. I’ve seen photographers post their photos on Twitter to then successfully find the two strangers in the background, I’ve seen users post a news topic that’s been hidden from the people and have it blow up in just a couple minutes, and I’ve even seen reports of a missing person be posted by an account to be then spread around the world in hopes of helping. Petitions have been posted on Twitter and shared with millions within minutes. Many of my friends use Twitter constantly and truly love it. This social media platform really allows any individual’s voice to be heard from anywhere.
At second glance, social media isn’t as big of a benefit to our society as we may think. Because of the growing technological advancements happening every day, we have so many different social media platforms to choose from and use. Yet, with these countless social media platforms come countless drawbacks that can be seen when you remove the sparkling horn and magical rainbow hair. As a teenager I’d say that the platforms my friends and I use the most are Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tiktok, Whatsapp, Youtube, and Twitter. And as a teenager, I can tell you that the social media sites which have negatively affected our generation are also these exact platforms.
Being a portal that allows you to be wherever you want, whenever you want, social media really allows individuals to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do in person. Many hide behind the shield social media platforms provide while propelling out harmful things to others. Others post content which can be harmful to others without even realizing it. Either way, social media can quickly go from being a majestic world of its own to a harsh reality.
Your fun feed that you’re met with immediately after opening the app can quickly lose it’s magic. Between the pictures of your friends at the park and the funny memes with the frog pictures are photos posted by celebrities and influencers. There are so many standards needing to be met to become “socially accepted” on social media that put a huge weight on a user’s back. Seeing an influencer’s perfect body and the response of thousands of likes and comments silently sets the ground rule that if you want that activity on your page you need to look like that. I’ve watched my friends personally edit their own appearance in pictures to hit this standard that’s been put in place over the years. Social media profiles are becoming our identity, leading to our self worth being determined by our followers. Because of this, our value is being set into the hands of strangers and is now defined by comments under a post. Although it’s easy to say that we should simply post whatever we want no matter what we look like, body shaming, cyberbullying, and many other nasty things are very common responses that keep individuals from being themselves online.
TikTok & YouTube
Cancel culture is very real and very harmful on this social media platform. Basically a modern form of ostracism, cancel culture can lead to constant hate for one wrong move. I would say TikTok is infamously known for having the worst cancel culture because of how easy it is to spread the news about what someone does/ says and when they are “cancelled”. Although I’ve seen it happen to a lot of influencers on the platform, it can happen to absolutely anyone. It’s really a tough subject because of what these individuals do. Many are called out for things that are inherently wrong which should truly be punished, yet, the immense amount of hate that a user receives when “cancelled” can lead to lasting psychological effects which can be argued to be too harsh of a punishment. This can include direct messages, comments, and video/picture posts that contain harmful words such as death threats. Although holding someone accountable for their actions when they are problematic is something that should be done, public shaming is neither productive nor healthy. We need to find a way to stop accountability from becoming bullying.
Because of the disappearing messages and pictures on Snapchat, it’s very common to see people being bullied on this platform. When using the chat feature, messages sent disappear when you swipe off of the chat. A lot of people see this as an opportunity to bully with no receipts. It’s also very common to see people using those private stories we talked about earlier to talk about people that aren’t added in them, meaning that something bad about a person can be seen by anyone in the story except for them. I’ve seen people use their private stories for malicious intent many times before. Posting rude things they have to say about someone or even videos or pictures of a person without their knowledge solely for the purpose of embarrassing them.
The growing popularity and importance of Twitter has led to the growing negative outcomes it can lead to because of it’s users. Our right of free speech is one greatly appreciated by all. Users are able to express their own opinions, views, and ideas on Twitter and use the platform for its purpose. Yet, wherever there are personal beliefs, there are always those who counter whatever it may be. Cyberbullying is very recurring on Twitter with constant attacks to all individuals because of what they believe and stand for. Whether it be political, religious, or about any other topic, it seems like no one is permitted to have their own personal opinion nowadays without consequences. Because of this, Twitter can be a very biased platform for whatever side of a view you’re on. This then leads to users getting information that may not always be correct. Because I’m not a frequent Twitter user, I haven’t really witnessed the worst of it, yet many of my friends have experienced backlash and hate themselves just for using their platform to share their voice.
At the end of the day, social media has introduced society to a different way of life- opening doors we didn’t know existed. Whether these are good or bad depends on the individual themself and how they decided to use this unique tool. Technology has grown to have a major impact on our world with social media opening up communication across the boundaries of the world. Whether you’re using it to express yourself, expand your network, engage with others, or just simply for entertainment, remember to do your part in keeping the magic social media offers through it’s own little world. After all, unicorns are way cooler than horses right?