A new report released this week from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that Facebook remains the leading social network among American teenagers. It’s also the most reviled. While some teenagers interviewed by Pew claimed they “enjoyed using it,” the majority complained of “an increasing adult presence, high-pressure or otherwise negative social interactions (‘drama’), or feeling overwhelmed by others who share too much.”
In other words, Facebook—as any adult with a profile knows—feels a lot like high school. “I think Facebook can be fun, but also it's drama central,” one 14-year-old girl said. “On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a ‘like,’ that they wouldn't say in real life." Said another, “It's so competitive to get the most likes [on a Facebook picture]. It's like your social position.” Ninety-four percent of American teenagers maintain a Facebook profile, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. “Honestly,” one 15-year-old girl told Pew, “I'm on it constantly but I hate it so much.”
If Facebook is high school, other social media platforms can function as opportunities to escape from Facebook's pervasive social structure—the online equivalent to cutting class and hanging out beneath the bleachers. “While ‘drama’ is the result of normal teenage dynamics rather than anything specific to Facebook, teens are sometimes resentful toward Facebook from this negative association,” Pew reports. Online spaces outside of Facebook—all of which attract just a fraction of Facebook’s teen user base—become places “where teens seek out spaces free of adults, and teens who want to avoid the drama of teenage life try to inhabit alternative social spaces.”
On Instagram, which is used by 11 percent of teenagers, “people tend to not come off so mean,” one 13-year-old girl told Pew. “Because all they really want is for people [to] like their photos.” And the medium can influence the message: Instagram is perceived as a supportive environment, but on Facebook, “if they say something mean, it hurts more.” Twitter (used by 26 percent of teens) can help cut through the drama of Facebook because “there's only so much you can say,” one 18-year-old boy said. “On Facebook, they say so many details of things that you don't want to know.” Snapchat (which Pew didn’t collect subscription rates for) can help relieve teenagers of the identity maintenance pressures of Facebook, which logs users’ photos and comments for instant recall. Said one 13-year-old, “it's better because I could pick the most embarrassing photo, and know that they'll see it for 10 seconds, and then I'm done.” And Tumblr (5 percent of teens) helps teenagers detach entirely from Facebook’s imposed social structure: “I like Tumblr because I don’t have to present a specific or false image of myself and I don’t have to interact with people I don’t necessarily want to talk to,” one 15-year-old girl said.
One 16-year-old boy told Pew that he signed up for Twitter because “everyone’s saying Facebook’s dead.” But despite reports of a mass exodus, most people aren't leaving. In fact, teen Facebook usage climbed one percentage point between 2011 and 2012. Facebook is the living dead: the most popular, least relevant social network where teenagers and adults alike gather out of fear of missing out on things that don't even make them happy. Facebook is "a major center of teenage social interactions, both with the positives of friendship and social support and the negatives of drama and social expectations," Pew reports. And without it, what would they make fun of on Tumblr?