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YouTube Is No. 1 Internet Platform Among U.S. Teens, While Facebook Usage Has Plummeted (Study)

About 45% of American kids 13-17 say they are online 'almost constantly,' according to Pew Research Center

Google’s YouTube takes the crown as the most widely used internet platform by American teens today — while Facebook’s popularity in the demo has slumped dramatically in the last three years.

That’s according to a new report on U.S. teenagers’ social-media use from the Pew Research Center, based on surveys conducted in the spring of 2018. Among the study’s other findings, the proportion of teens (ages 13-17) who say they are online “almost constantly” has nearly doubled since its 2014-15 study on the subject, to 45% on the most recent survey. That’s sure to fuel concerns that social media and smartphones are contributing to mental-health problems associated with heavy internet use — including forms of addiction.

YouTube leads the pack of internet platforms for Gen Z. About 85% of kids 13 to 17 say they use the video service, followed by Instagram (72%), Snapchat (69%), Facebook (51%) and Twitter (32%).

However, Snapchat is the most-used platform for U.S. teens. On Pew’s survey, 35% cited Snapchat as the app they use most often, followed by YouTube at 32% and Instagram at 15%. Just 10% of U.S. teens say Facebook is their most-used online platform.

Facebook’s “teen problem” is not a surprise to industry watchers. For example, eMarketer in February estimated that in 2018, less than half of U.S. internet users ages 12 to 17 will use Facebook via any device at least once monthly.

As measured by Pew’s surveys, the significant fall from favor for Facebook among teenagers comes as Snapchat and Facebook-owned Instagram have gained ground. On the Pew Research Center’s 2014-15 teen social-media survey, 71% of teenagers said they Facebook; at the time, 52% used Instagram and 41% used Snapchat. (YouTube was not included on the 2014-15 study.)

Another significant change in the last few years: The vast majority of U.S. teens now have a smartphone. About 95% of American teenagers have (or have access to) a smartphone, up from the 73% in 2014-15, according to Pew Research Center.

As a result, teens are using the internet a lot more. While 24% of teens said they’re online “almost constantly” in the 2014-15 survey, that jumped to 45% in 2018. In addition, 44% of teens surveyed this year said they go online several times a day.

With the time spent using internet apps surging, especially among U.S. teens, health-care professionals and researchers have grown worried that overuse can lead to debilitating problems — including depression, anxiety and even suicide. That’s led to calls for Silicon Valley companies to address the issue with new features and controls to prevent device addiction or dependency.

How critical are the problems introduced by social media? Teens themselves have mixed views. On Pew Research Center’s 2018 survey, 45% said the effects of social media have been neither positive nor negative; 31% said social media’s effects have been mostly positive and the remaining 24% feel it has been “mostly negative.” Just 12% said social media has had a negative effect on teens giving in to peer pressure, while smaller shares expressed concerns about psychological or emotional issues.

Meanwhile, 90% of teens said they play video games, whether that’s on PCs, game consoles or smartphones. Usage skews male: 97% of boys said they play video games of some kind compared with 83% of girls.

The Pew Research Center’s full “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018” report is available at this link.

The report is based on surveys with 1,058 parents of teens and interviews with 743 teenagers. The interviews were conducted online and by telephone from March 7-April 10, 2018, by NORC, an independent research org at the University of Chicago. The margin of error is 5 percentage points for the full sample of teens surveyed and 4.5 percentage points for the full sample of parent respondents.

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