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Last week, on October 8th, Pew Research Center published data from a new study depicting social media usage from 2005 to the present.
If you’ve stuck around the blog much the last couple of years, you have noticed by now that while I write about a wide array of topics, the two about which I write the most are Millennials and social media. I make no apologies for this—it’s just kinda how it is. I am a social media professional (hold your jokes), so this sort of data is of interest to me and my work.
As I’ve casually sifted through the new Pew data regarding social media usage over the last 10 years, some trends have stuck out.
Young, rich, educated urbanites, generally speaking. Hmm… this sounds familiar…
Last week I wrote a blog post about how, unfortunately, when we write or speak generalities about Millennials, we tend to have white, upper-middle class Millennials in mind. This is likely the case for a number of reasons, though one obvious reason is that white, upper-middle class people are the most upwardly mobile and likely to have access to platforms from which to present their observation of their white, upper-middle class friends, like social media.
Social media is about as real as reality TV: we make public what we want, when we want, and we call it reality.
What I’m saying is this: it’s no coincidence that the group of Millennials which gets the most coverage happens to be the group that is most active in the world of social media.
You don’t read many blog posts from Latinos working three jobs in Los Angeles or African Americans dodging gang violence in South Chicago, and as a result, you don’t hear their side of the Millennial story as much.
Social media tends to reflect the same phenomenon. Though Pew’s data does not show a significant discrepancy in the social media usage across racial lines, it does show significant differences in how often people use social media based on socio-economic and educational status. Here is the graph showing little difference among whites, Latinos, and African Americans:
Check out this graph, which depicts how people of each age group use social media. As you study it, notice a few things: 1) young people pounced on social in 2006 (thanks, Facebook), 2) our parents hopped on in 2009 (thanks, Farmville), and 3) it’s hard to believe 90% of 18-29 year olds are on social media, sorta:
Men and women tend to use social media at similar rates, but the more educated use social media markedly more than the lesser educated. See another chart from Pew:
While the lesser educated use social media, the trend is true to itself when the lowest income Americans use social media. The level of income an American receives tends to maintain a positive correlation with the level of education an American receives, so if the chart above tells us that the most educated Americans are the most active on social media, it would follow that the richest Americans are most active on social media:
That’s a good question. I’m glad I asked that question for you.
Honestly, the most valuable takeaway for me as it pertains to this research is this: be careful how you consume your social media.
When you consume the content you consume on social media, it may feel like you are getting the full story on whatever it is you’re reading or watching.
But you’re not.
I’ve highlighted this concern before, when data was released showing us that most Millennials consume their news on Facebook:
The Facebook Echo Chamber matters because if Millennials are primarily consuming news via Facebook, and Facebook only serves us content we like, we’re only ever going to be seeing content we like, and that’s a problem.
Facebook filtering, especially when it comes to the consumption of political views as explained above, promotes further ideological polarization, which is a horrible idea.
It is critical that Christians simultaneously engage in social media and understand social media does not manifest the fullness of reality.
Social media is about as real as reality TV: we make public what we want, when we want, and we call it reality. And in this case, only a select group of people have (or access) this luxury. The lesser educated, poor people in our communities aren’t sharing cat videos and voting for Dancing With the Stars contestants with hashtags—they’re trying to make ends meet.
When you access social media, you’re consuming content in an environment run primarily by the richest and most educated members of society. This might not sound all that bad, and it really may not be that bad. Except for one BIG thing:
Social media isn’t giving a voice to the voiceless.
Social media silences the voiceless with the whining of the upper class.