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How Millennials use and control social media

By taking a deep look into the information habits of Millennials, the study also sheds more detailed light on how Millennials are using social media.

Social networks are an extraordinarily important part of Millennials’ digital lives, in part because social networks have become much more than a way to connect about personal matters.

At the same time, we heard in various ways that people increasingly want to take more control over social media, manage their time there, and improve the quality of what they see. Various people expressed a sense of frustration, particularly with Facebook, for having too much information, taking up too much of their time, and containing too much content that wasn’t trustworthy or worthwhile.

“I don’t like to go on Facebook anymore, but, I mean, I still do it,” said Sam, age 19 in San Francisco.

Millennials use a variety of social networks for news and information, especially Facebook

The survey measured the use of seven different social networks as pathways to news and information. That analysis provides a landscape view of social media and news. One striking finding is that every one of these social networks, to greater or lesser degrees, are now news platforms.

Fully 88 percent of those surveyed get news from Facebook at least occasionally, 83 percent from YouTube, and 50 percent from Instagram.

Sizable minorities of Millennials also report getting news from Pinterest (36 percent), Twitter (33 percent), Reddit (23 percent), and Tumblr (21 percent). And while these numbers are smaller, they represent quite large percentages of those who use these social media platforms at all.

For all that, the omnipresence of Facebook stands out. Fully 57 percent of Millennials who get news from Facebook do so at least once a day (including 44 percent who say at least several times a day).

That is roughly double the number using YouTube (29 percent) or Instagram (26 percent) on a daily basis to get news and information, the next most popular social networks for doing so.

Far fewer report getting news on a daily basis from Twitter (13 percent), Pinterest (10 percent), Reddit (8 percent), or Tumblr (7 percent).

People who describe themselves as active news and information seekers are more likely to use certain social networks for news. In particular, these more active news seekers are more likely to use Reddit (13 percent vs. 4 percent) and somewhat more likely to use YouTube (33 percent vs. 26 percent) at least once a day than those who say they mostly bump into news.

Social network Used daily Used occassionally
Facebook 57% 31%
YouTube 29% 54%
Instagram 26% 23%
Twitter 13% 21%
Pinterest 10% 25%
Reddit 8% 15%
Tumblr 7% 14%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Although Facebook is popular among all adults under age 35, younger Millennials are even more likely to use a mix of social networks for news than older members of this generation. The average 18-to-21-year-old uses 3.7 social networks out of seven platforms asked about in the survey. For the average older Millennial age 30-34, that decreases to 2.9.

Stevie, age 19 from Oakland, has deleted his Facebook entirely in favor of other platforms, though he acknowledges that he may be missing out on some of his social network as a result. “I shouldn’t have [deleted it] because a lot of older people still use it; college students, and all my college friends still have it, but I deleted it because I felt like I had too many things. I stopped using it because there are other things to use.”

While social networks may be a place that people bump into news, many Millennials engage more actively with the news once there

The survey asked the 91 percent of Millennials who report using Facebook for any reason about their behavior there. Seven in 10 click on and regularly read or watch news stories or headlines posted by other people. They also participate in news in ways that are not entirely possible in more traditional platforms. Six in 10, for instance, say they regularly “like” a posted news story, headline, or link. Nearly half, 42 percent, say they regularly post or share news content to Facebook themselves, and 34 percent say they regularly comment on news stories, headlines, or links. Only 11 percent of Facebook users say they do not do any of these things.

The data also suggest that Facebook may be increasing news awareness and consumption in ways that even its users do not anticipate or intend. A good deal of this news consumption is unexpected, or serendipitous. For instance, while 7 in 10 regularly click on news stories on Facebook, less than half (47 percent) of Millennials using Facebook say that hunting for interesting articles is one of the main reasons they use the platform.

The more common motivations for turning to Facebook, these users say, are social. Fully 76 percent of these Facebook Millennials cite seeing what their friends are talking about and what’s happening in their friends’ lives, as a main reason they turn to Facebook. A clear majority (58 percent) cite using Facebook to find things that entertain them, such as funny lists, articles, or videos.

Reason Facebook Twitter
See what friends are talking about 76% 36%
Find things that entertain them 58% 40%
Look for interesting articles or links posted 47% 33%
Share content 42% 33%
See what's "trending" 35% 43%
Get more information on something heard on news 33% 32%
Other 4% 5%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

The reasons they use Twitter are related but slightly different than the reasons they turn to Facebook. Twitter is a place to learn about what people in general are talking about, not just the lives of people they know. For instance, the number one reason these Twitter users say they use the social platform is to see what’s “trending” and what people are talking about (43 percent). The number two reason is to find things that entertain them, such as funny lists, articles, or videos (40 percent). About half as many Twitter users as Facebook users (36 percent vs. 76 for Facebook) say a main reason they use Twitter is to see what’s happening in their friends’ lives and what they’re talking about.

Twitter, by contrast, is a different kind of platform. While it is a significantly less popular social network overall than Facebook, it is more popular among this group of younger Millennials than it is among adults overall. In general, recent surveys of adults of all ages show that 23 percent have a Twitter account. Among Millennials, however, fully 37 percent say they use Twitter.Along with getting news, fewer than half cite sharing content (42 percent), or seeing what’s trending and what people are talking about on social media (35 percent) as a main motivation for turning to Facebook. Even lower percentages of this generation say they look to Facebook as a way of learning more about things, or a means to getting more information on something they heard about either on social media or in the news (33 percent).

News is not the primary reason that Millennials use Twitter. About one-third say they go to Twitter mainly to look for interesting articles or links their followed friends or organizations post, to share their own content, or to get more information on something they heard either on social media or in the news.

But as with Facebook, the reasons people look at Twitter and the ways they say they actually use it are also different. When asked about action rather than motivation, news becomes far more important.

About half (49 percent) of these Twitter-using Millennials say they regularly read or watch news stories or headlines posted there, and one-third regularly re-tweet news stories, headlines, or links posted by others on Twitter. Fewer regularly compose their own tweets about something news related (26 percent) or tweet news stories, headlines, or links from other websites (23 percent). Just 22 percent of those who use Twitter say they do not use it for any of these news engagement activities.

Millennials say social media exposes them to different opinions and views

One concept that some critics have wondered about in the age of almost complete consumer choice is whether people are insulated from opinions and ideas that are different than their own. This has been called the “filter bubble,” among other names, and there is a question about whether younger adults, who grew up with these choices rather than the agenda-setting of more traditional media are more prone to this risk.

In our earlier study, the Personal News Cycle, we found that the filter bubble was probably overstated when considered broadly. Most Americans did not make their choices about where to learn about most news topics based on ideology. The study found that Americans are discriminating consumers of news whose news habits vary depending on the topic. That study challenged the notion that with limitless choices people follow only a few subjects in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree.

For this deeper look at people under age 35, we found Millennials perceive themselves to be exposed to a variety of opinions and say they are willing to investigate those opinions.

In all, 70 percent of Millennials say that their social media feeds are composed of a relatively even mix of similar and different opinions to their own. Just 12 percent say the opinions they see in social media are mostly similar to their own. A slightly larger number, 16 percent, say, interestingly, that the opinions and viewpoints they see are mostly different than their own.

Response Percent of Millennials
Mostly similar opinions 12%
Even mix of similar and different opinions 70%
Mostly different opinions 16%
Refused 2%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Response Percent of Millennials
Always or often 26%
Sometimes 47%
Rarely or never 26%
Refused 1%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Those who describe themselves as less active seekers of news are even more likely to say they encounter diverse opinions and viewpoints in social media. Fully 73 percent of those Millennials who say they mostly bump into news and information throughout their day say the opinions in their feeds are an even mix of viewpoints, compared with 65 percent of those who call themselves active news seekers. Bumping into news, in other words, may widen the perspectives one is exposed to, not narrow them.

Exposure is one thing. Clicking on those opinions you disagree with is another. To what extent do these younger Millennials then take that next step and read the things that don’t reflect their own viewpoints?

Of those who say they see either a mix or mostly dissimilar opinions to their own in their social media feeds, 26 percent say they always or often investigate these different opinions. About half, 47 percent say they do sometimes. Thus nearly three-quarters of these Millennials (73 percent) say they investigate opinions different than their own in social media at least some of the time.

Only a minority, 26 percent, say they rarely or never click on or investigate opinions in their social media feeds that are different from their own.

In other words, the study suggests a wide exposure to different points of view in social media, and a sizable consciousness of taking the next step and investigating those views.

We heard the same awareness in our qualitative interviews, where we were able to press people to see if these responses are simply answers to a survey or are evident in the way people voluntarily describe their behavior.

“[Social media] creates such good dialogue because there are so many places you can get ideas,” said Lauren, age 23 in Chicago. “You don’t know where your friend or your parent is getting their news from. So you can openly have a dialogue, and you have just totally different views on the same event. I think, overall, it’s so cool that it opens up that dialogue.”

Millennials report changing their social media behavior over time

Another trend about the lives of Millennials in social media is that their behavior there has changed over time. Whether this is because they have gotten older, their attitude toward social networks has changed, or they think social media itself has changed is harder to know. We heard in our qualitative interviews examples of all three of those factors.

Whatever the reason, fully 86 percent say they have changed how they use social media in some way compared to the past.

While in general this generation is not highly concerned about privacy (as noted above), the most frequently cited change in social media behavior is paying more attention to and actively controlling their privacy settings than they once did. This was true of over half (52 percent) of all respondents. That was the only change cited by a majority.

The second-biggest change had to do with removing content. Fully 37 percent say they are now more likely to remove information or photos of themselves that are embarrassing or immature.

And those who share content on Facebook or Twitter are more likely than those who do not share content to monitor their privacy settings (60 percent vs. 46 percent) as well as remove information or photos that could be embarrassing (47 percent vs. 30 percent).

Change in behavior Percent of Millenials
Pay more attention to privacy settings 52%
Remove embarrassing information or photos 37%
Tailored use to different platforms 36%
Stopped using some platforms 26%
Connect with more people 23%
Use for professional reasons 21%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

The composition of some Millennials’ networks is also changing. Thirty-six percent say they have tailored the way they use social media, with different platforms having different purposes.

We heard this often in our qualitative interviews as well. Elese, age 23 from Chicago, notes that she’ll “get up and I always have a routine of what I check out on social media. It’s always Instagram first, because it’s nice pictures, then I’ll check out Facebook because, okay, this is what my friends are doing, and then I’ll go to Twitter and I’ll be like, okay, what’s the news.”

There is also some but not overwhelming evidence of what might be called social fatigue. In all, 26 percent of Millennials say they have stopped using some of their social networks altogether.

At the same time, however, another notion about the web — that it widens one’s network of people in an ever-expanding manner, is also not borne out in the data. In all, only about 1 in 5 Millennials say they now connect with a broader range of people (23 percent) than they once did. Similarly, only about 1 in 5 says they use social networks for professional reasons more frequently (21 percent) than they used to.

In Millennials’ Words

Why do you prefer Facebook/Twitter?

“My reasoning for using Facebook is to communicate with people and be able to find more friends and to stay in contact with [my] friends.”
— Francis, age 20, Chicago

“I like Twitter. I use it like a foundation. You can post photos, you can post articles. You can also post just thoughts, and it’s fast paced so it’s not like a Facebook wall. [On Facebook,] everything gathers and stays there. It’s like still water. Twitter is constantly moving, changing every hour or so.”
— Marwa, age 25, Chicago

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