As today’s teenagers grow up surrounded by the Internet, discussions over how they navigate it and what they consume are becoming more and more crucial. Why are certain types of content more popular than others? Do teenagers play a more active or passive role in posting on the Internet? Finally, how do they think that social media impacts them? This article explores those questions using the results of an informal, self-conducted survey of 39 9th to 11th grade high school students of all genders.

When shown a list of social media websites, participants were asked which ones they use regularly; 97.4 percent of respondents selected YouTube. Instagram was the second most popular, with 56.4 percent of respondents being regular users. TikTok and Snapchat were both used by 46.2 percent of those surveyed, Twitch by 38.5 percent and Twitter by 23.1 percent. By contrast, sites like Reddit, Facebook, Quora and Tumblr were used by a smaller number of respondents: 15.4, 12.8, 7.7 and 2.6  percent, respectively. One explanation for why such websites were used by less people could be the range of content found on the sites; perhaps offering more topics and types of content attracts more viewers. It’s also possible that teenagers find sites centered around subscribing to or following their preferred creators to be more enjoyable than those that do not.

Nearly 54 percent of those surveyed responded that they post on social media on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. According to the survey, some of those who answered “yes” use the Internet as a way to demonstrate support for causes they think are important. Two respondents stated they have donated to charities through social media.

One respondent wrote “[I post] things that mean something to me. For example, June is Pride month, I post a small message within the first week of June to let people know they have one more person supporting them, even if they don’t need it. May is Mental Health Awareness month, so I post a message in May telling people they’re not alone and thanking some close friends for helping me through my mental health issues. Or October being learning disability awareness month, where I can also thank those who helped me and give people insight into the mind of those who function differently from the ‘norm’.”

Elizabeth Denneen, another student, explained in an interview how she has become involved in the Stop Line 3 movement. She says that her involvement stemmed from “a combination of things, but I think a lot of the stuff that I’ve been seeing on YouTube and a lot of the stuff that I was reading was finally what pushed me over the edge.”

Others use social media as a hobby, a way to share content they create. For example, six participants stated that they post photographs or photography-related content. Judging from the results of the survey, teenagers produce and share a diverse range of content, from “posts about having fun” to gaming videos as well as book reviews to “any content [they] wish, whether educational or simply memes.”

Responses over whether social media has had a positive or negative impact in respondents’ lives vary greatly: some positive, some negative, some mixed. As one respondent stated, “Maybe it’s weird, but social media is one of my outlets for stress, even if it causes it sometimes.” According to the survey, some positive impacts of social media include interpersonal connection, education and entertainment. However, not everyone is in agreement that it has been a necessarily positive force.

One respondent wrote: “Honestly, I don’t like having social media. I get FOMO (fear of missing out) from platforms like Instagram where I compare myself to others. I only use it for when other people contact me.” Others echo that concern; “As an artist and a teenage girl, comparison can be super damaging,” one respondent wrote. “I’ve started trying to use social media in moderation so that I don’t lose my mind comparing myself to the perfect image people put out on the internet.”

Interestingly, a different student stated that they don’t “fall into the spiral of comparing” themself to others, further suggesting that the perceived effects of social media vary greatly depending on individual circumstance. Other criticisms of social media included that it facilitates arguments between its users, that it distracts or uses up time and that it can propagate false information.

It remains to be seen how social media will continue to evolve and affect the collective psyche of the younger generations. It is nonetheless crucial to see how teenagers themselves view the digital world that shapes the society in which they live.