Internet use is nearly universal among American teens; 95% of those ages 12-17 are internet users, up slightly from November 2004 (when 87% of teens went online). Internet usage is higher among teens than among adults as a whole (as of August 2011, 78% of all adults go online), although internet adoption rates among adults ages 18-29 are identical to those found among teens.
Teen internet use has intensified over the years. In this sample, 70% of teen internet users say they go online daily: 46% do so several times a day and an additional 24% do so about once a day. One-quarter (24%) go online weekly, while the remaining 6% go online every few weeks or less often. The proportion of teen internet users who go online several times a day has nearly doubled since November 2004 (at that point, 24% of teen internet users reported going online several times a day) and has increased by 10 percentage points since September 2009, when 36% of teen internet users reported going online multiple times per day.
There are relatively few demographic differences when it comes to how often teens go online, although older teens are likely to do so with greater frequency than are younger teens. Fully 53% of teen internet users ages 14-17 go online several times per day, compared with 30% of users ages 12-13.
Eight in ten online teens use social network sites such as Facebook or MySpace, and 16% use Twitter.
Eight in ten online teens (80%) now use social network sites such as Facebook or MySpace, up from just over half of online teens (55%) the first time we measured social network site usage among teenagers in late 2006. Social network site adoption among teens is significantly higher than it is among adults as a whole; 64% of all online adults use these sites. However, adults under the age of 30 use these sites at roughly the same rate as teens; 87% of online 18-29 year olds are social network site users.
Twitter adoption among teens pales in comparison to their use of social network sites as a whole. Yet, the number of teen Twitter users has doubled over the last two years; 16% of online teens now use Twitter, up from 8% the first time we asked this question in late 2009. Teens and adults now use Twitter at similar rates, as 12% of online adults are Twitter users.
Almost all teen Twitter users take part in other online social network sites as well—just one respondent in our survey reported using Twitter but not using any other social network sites. Throughout the remainder of this chapter and in the report that follows, the 80% of online teens who use social network sites and/or Twitter will be referred to as teen social media users. They comprise 76% of all those ages 12-17.
Which groups of teens use social media?
Among teens, usage of social network sites is relatively consistent across a number of demographic categories. The youngest teenagers are less avid: 45% of online 12-year-olds use these sites. That figure nearly doubles between the ages of 12 and 13, with 82% of 13-year-olds saying that they are social network site users.
In contrast to social network sites, Twitter use among teens is marked by much more variation between groups. Specifically, girls are twice as likely to use Twitter as boys (22% of online girls use Twitter, compared with 10% of online boys), and black teens are three times as likely to be Twitter users than either white or Latino teens (34% of online black teens use Twitter). Twitter adoption is especially low among younger boys, as just 2% of online boys ages 12-13 are Twitter users.
Facebook dominates teen social media usage
In addition to asking about general social media usage, we also included a question on our July survey asking about the specific social media sites on which teens have actually created an account. Overall, Facebook is the dominant social media site among teens, as 93% of teen social media users have a Facebook account. MySpace ranks a distant second in overall usage, with 24% of teen social media users having an account on this site. Among teen social media users:
- 93% have an account on Facebook
- 24% have an account on MySpace
- 12% have an account on Twitter
- 7% have an account on a Yahoo site
- 6% have an account on YouTube
- 2% have an account on each of the following: Skype, myYearbook, and Tumblr
- 1% have an account on Google Buzz
In total, 59% of teen social media users have an account on just one site, while 41% have accounts on multiple sites. Among teens with one social media profile, 89% maintain that one account on Facebook while the remainder is spread among a number of sites. And for teens with multiple accounts, fully 99% have an account on Facebook. Put another way, account ownership for the vast majority of teen social media users boils down to either “Facebook only” or “Facebook plus another site or sites.”
Demographic differences in account ownership
Given the relatively broad overlap between the different social media sites noted above, it would stand to reason that any differences in account ownership are fairly minor. And indeed, there is fairly modest demographic variation in terms of where teen social media users maintain their accounts.
Facebook – Nine in ten teen social media users have a Facebook account, and use of the site is quite prevalent across a range of demographic groups. Facebook account ownership is especially high among a few groups, including whites (96% of white teen social media users have a Facebook account, compared with 87% of blacks and 88% of Latinos), older teens (95% of 14-17 year-old social media users have a Facebook account, compared with 87% of those ages 12-13), and those whose parents have at least some college experience (96% of such teen social media users have a Facebook account, compared with 89% among those whose parents have no college experience).
MySpace – MySpace profiles are most common among Latino teens (35% of Latino teen social media users have a MySpace account, compared with 22% of whites) and those whose parents did not go to college (32% of these social media using teens have a MySpace account, compared with 18% of those whose parents have at least some college experience).
YouTube – Among teen social media users, boys (9%) are more likely than girls (3%) to have an account on YouTube.
Yahoo – Young teen social media users are more likely than older teens to have an account on a Yahoo site. One in nine social media users ages 12-13 (12%) have an account on a Yahoo site, compared with 5% of those ages 14-17.
Facebook eclipsed MySpace over the last five years.
When we asked teens about their social media accounts in November 2006, our question wording was substantially different from the version used in our 2011 survey. In 2006, we asked teens, “Where is the [social networking site] profile you use or update most often?,” while in 2011 we asked them, “On which social networking site or sites do you have an account?” However, even allowing for these differences in wording, it is clear that MySpace usage is far less prevalent among teens than it was five years ago. In 2006, more than eight in ten teen profile owners (85%) said that MySpace was the social network profile they used most often; as of July 2011 just one-quarter of such teens (24%) report having a MySpace profile at all.
As MySpace usage has grown less prevalent among teens over the last five years, Facebook usage has increased in kind. In 2006, just 7% of teen profile owners said that Facebook was the profile they used most often. In 2011, half (52%) of teen social media users have an account on Facebook but no accounts on any other social network sites.
With the exception of LinkedIn, teen and adult profile owners use similar social media sites.
The sites on which teen social media users have created accounts tend to be similar to those used by their adult counterparts, though teens are slightly more likely to use Facebook and MySpace. Fully 93% of teens and 87% of adult social media users have a profile or account on Facebook, the most popular site for both groups; 24% of teens and 14% of adults have a profile or account on MySpace; and 12% of teens and 10% of adults have a profile or account on Twitter. Not surprisingly, usage of the professionally oriented site LinkedIn is far more prevalent among adults than it is among teens—11% of adult profile owners have an account on LinkedIn, while no teens in our survey mentioned having an account on that site.
How teens use social network sites
Teens engage in a wide range of activities on social network sites, with chatting and instant messaging, commenting on their friends’ posts, and posting their own status updates leading the way—just under nine in ten teen social media users do each of these activities. On the other end of the scale, gaming is the least common activity we measured in our survey, as half of teen social media users play games within the context of these sites. Note that gaming outside the social media context is quite common among teens, as a total of 85% of all teens play video games on a computer or gaming console.
Overall, the median teen social media user takes part in six of the seven activities we measured in our survey.
Older teens tend to be more active users of social media than their younger counterparts. Social media users ages 14-17 are significantly more likely than those ages 12-13 to post comments on something their friends have posted; to post status updates; to post photos or videos; and to tag others in posts, photos, or videos. Younger teens stand out in their tendency to use these sites to play games. Among social media-using teens, fully 69% of 12-13 year-olds use these sites to play games, compared with 44% of those ages 14-17.
Girls and boys use social media sites in similar ways, although girls are somewhat more likely to use these sites to post photos or videos (88% of girl social media users do this, compared with 71% of boys) and to tag other people (79% vs. 60%). Similarly, there are few differences based on race or ethnicity, with two exceptions. White teens are more likely than black teens to post comments on their friends’ posts (90% vs. 80%) and both white and black teens are more likely than Latino teens to post status updates (among social media using teens 90% of whites, 84% of blacks, and 70% of Latinos do this).