Rich Teens Use Instagram, Poor Teens Use Facebook

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14 year old hanging upside down with iPhone on couch
Photo: Alexander Farnsworth/dpa/Corbis

A few years ago, there was a tremendous amount of hand-wringing about teenagers abandoning Facebook, dumping the ancient, ugly social network for its younger, sleeker, smartphone-native peers. 

A new study from the Pew Research Center should help to counter that false impression — or at least to complicate it. Facebook remains the dominant social network in the United States, including for the kids. But the study provides a lot of nuance about who uses what social networks and how often they use them. 

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Stepping back, the study confirms that all teenagers are using the internet all the damn time. About nine in ten teenagers go online daily, with 24 percent saying they are online “almost constantly” and only 2 percent saying they go online less often than once a week. Much of that internet use is facilitated by smartphones, which three quarters of teens have or have access to, including 81 percent of black teens, who are online more frequently than their white and Hispanic peers. 

Once they’re wired, teens are most likely to sign on to Facebook. But teenagers are diversifying their use of social networks, with seven in ten saying they use more than one site. And six in ten teens say that they most often use a platform other than Facebook, such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, or Vine. “Facebook remains a dominant force in teens’ social media ecosystems,” the study concludes. But it’s not the dominant force. 

Moreover, certain groups of teens are heavier users of Facebook — among them, kids from low-income families, boys, and older teens. Indeed, there are pretty stark differences in teenagers’ use of social media depending on income. More than half of poor teens use Facebook as their primary social network. Just 31 percent of high-income teens do. They’re much more likely to be Rich Kids of Instagram, or big users of Snapchat or Twitter.

But I can’t imagine that bothers Facebook too much. Its dominance remains secure. And it owns Instagram, after all.