As a social media user, I love Facebook and its capabilities to increase community, communication, and connection. For the last 8 years, it’s been one of the primary tools for those things, and has stood the test of time and of use and misuse. But, if modern reports are to be believed, teens — once considered Facebook’s primary audience — are abandoning it for other social media services.
The Verge recently broke a story that data reveals that services like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr are becoming more popular amongst teens for communication and entertainment. Branch CEO/co-founder Josh Miller also noticed this trend when he asked his sister about her social media usage. The aforementioned systems, plus Apple’s Facetime, all took precedence over Facebook.
I love watching markets shift and change, as good products are made and replaced by better products. So, if Facebook’s ability to innovate is slowly disappearing, then fine. But I don’t see an economic shift in which teens see no value in Facebook. Rather, I see teens turning to new forms of technology that allow them to construct a new identity and share themselves without consequences.
Note that three of the aforementioned systems have a strong capability for creating a false identity by allowing users to focus on a part of their identity. Want to be known for your good looks? Snap photos of yourself via Instagram. Want to be known for what you “share” or curate with an anonymous crowd? Tumblr will do the trick. These networks represent opportunities to return to the days when someone could travel the Internet and share opinions, images, and other things anonymously. I fear that teens don’t want to engage with the world in an honest manner, but instead, want to divide their real-life behavior from their digital behavior (a clear consequence of digital dualism).
We think of ourselves as being able to live two different lives, one online and one offline. But that dichotomy is sociologically false, for no matter what we do or where we do it, our identity remains the same. We simply choose to emphasize one aspect of ourselves over another, creating a personality split which is simply not true. If the trends noted by The Verge and Miller are true, I fear that teens are giving too much into this dualistic understanding and dividing themselves in a way that is dishonest.
This tendency does appear in many ways for various people groups. For many, it may be nichefying our online identities, while for others, it’s a form of a “success theater” where our successes are placed in front while failures are hidden from everyone, thus lying to ourselves and the world. Let us, as Christians and social human beings, avoid this paradigm, and instead, use social media tools to be both open and honest with the world and our friends.