by Sirin Kale
does not use social media.
Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Drăgoi
There is a natural backlash occurring with teens
completely dropping out of social media because
of the phoniness and pressure imposed by their
Thus far, Technocrat overlords of social media
have had the advantage freshness while growing
their user base.
Those days may be over.
Logged off -
Meet the teens who refuse to use social media
Generation Z has grown up
...so why are a surprising
turning their backs on
Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat?
For 17-year-old Mary Amanuel, from London, it happened in
"We were in year 7,"
she remembers, "and my friend had made an Instagram account. As
we were buying stuff, she was counting the amounts of likes
she'd got on a post. 'Oooh, 40 likes. 42 likes.' I just thought:
'This is ridiculous.'"
18-year-old student from Bedfordshire who doesn't want to disclose
her surname, turned against social media when her classmates became
off from conversation. It became: 'Can I have your number to
text you?' Something got lost in terms of speaking face to face.
And I thought: 'I don't really want to be swept up in that'."
For 15-year-old Emily
Sharp, from Staines in Surrey, watching bullying online was the
"It wasn't nice. That
deterred me from using it."
It is widely believed
that young people are hopelessly devoted to social media.
Teenagers, according to
this stereotype, tweet, gram, Snap and scroll. But for every young
person hunched over a screen, there are others for whom social media
no longer holds such an allure.
These teens are turning
their backs on the technology - and there are more of them than you
While many of us have been engrossed in the Instagram lives of our
co-workers and peers, a backlash among young people has been quietly
boiling. One 2017 survey of British schoolchildren found that 63%
would be happy if social media had never been invented.
Another survey of 9,000
internet users from the research firm
Ampere Analysis found that people
aged 18-24 had significantly changed their attitudes towards social
media in the past two years.
Whereas 66% of this
demographic agreed with the statement "social media is important to
me" in 2016, only 57% make this claim in 2018.
As young people
increasingly reject social media, older generations increasingly
among the 45-plus age
bracket, the proportion who value social media has increased
from 23% to 28% in the past year, according to Ampere's data.
This is part of a wider
According to a study by
US marketing firm Hill Holliday of
Generation Z - people born after
1995 - half of those surveyed stated they had quit or were
considering quitting at least one social media platform.
When it comes to Gen Z's
relationship to social media,
are beginning to show", says the firm's Lesley Bielby.
She believes we will
definitely see an increase in younger people quitting or
substantially reducing their use.
"And as younger Gen
Zers notice this behavior among their older siblings and
friends, they too will start to dial down their use of social
As the first generation
to grow up online, Gen Z never had to learn social media, or at
least not exactly.
They glided through every
...in real time,
effortlessly adopting each one.
But a life lived in
pixels from your earliest age is no easy thing.
"You start doing
things that are dishonest," says Amanuel, who quit social media
"Like Instagram: I
was presenting this dishonest version of myself, on a platform
where most people were presenting dishonest versions of
Like Amanuel, Jeremiah
Johnson, 18, from Luton, grew weary of the pressures of
sustaining an online persona.
"It's a competition
for who can appear the happiest," he says. "And if you're not
happy and want to vent about it on social media, you're
After being "bugged" by
his friends to get Instagram (he had stopped using Facebook aged
16), Johnson joined.
He lasted six months.
"If you're having a
bad day and scrolling through it, you're constantly bombarded
with pictures of people going to parties.
Even if that's not an
accurate portrayal of their lives, that's what you see. So I
stopped using it. It became depressing. It was this competition
of who's the happiest."
that is not something I'm interested in."
have been faced with a surfeit of clicks, retweets and likes - and
the dopamine rush of online validation - since the neural pathways
in their brains were formed.
overwhelmed with the responsibility of maintaining their social
sites and with upholding the somewhat inflated persona many have
created on these sites, where they are constantly seeking
approval via the amount of likes they get for any given post,"
Young people are breaking stereotypes
by leaving social networks.
"The people who are
the most honest about themselves do not play the game of
Instagram," Amanuel says.
"The game of
Instagram is who can maximize their likes by being the most
risque, outrageous or conformist as possible. I didn't want
to play that game."
At school, social media
can be a brutal barometer of popularity.
"If you meet someone
new and they ask for your Instagram and you only have 80
followers," says Sharp, "they're going to think: 'You're not
that popular', but if you have 2,000 followers they're going to
be like: 'You're the most popular person in school'."
Sharp quit social media
"I'd rather not know
what other people think of me."
A desire to build
authentic, offline friendships motivated some to quit.
"I'm so much better
at real-life socializing now," says Amanuel. "Not just those
people you accept on a friend request who are friends of a
For Tyreke Morgan,
18, from Bristol, being a hard man to get hold of - he has no social
media presence at all - has its advantages.
through other people to find me," Morgan laughs, "and when I
hear that they're been trying to get hold of me I say: 'Great!'
Why would I need 500 flakey friends?"
But when you are from a
digitally native generation, quitting social media can feel like
joining a monastery.
Amanuel was recently
asked by co-workers if she had Snapchat.
"I said no," Amanuel
remembers, "and I instantly heard, like, gasps. It was like I'd
revealed something disgusting."
She explained that she
did have a Snapchat handle, but never used it.
"Relief came out of
their eyes! It was really weird."
Teenagers not ready to
quit entirely are stepping back for a while.
Dr Amanda Lenhart,
who researches young people's online lives, conducted a survey of US
teenagers, asking them about taking time off social media.
"We found that 58% of
teenagers said they had taken at least one break from at least
one social media platform.
The most common
reason? It was getting in the way of schoolwork or jobs, with
more than a third of respondents citing this as their primary
reason for leaving social media.
included feeling tired of the conflict or drama they could see
unfolding among their peer group online, and feeling oppressed
too by the constant fire-hose of information."
Bielby agrees that young
people are becoming more aware of the amount of time they waste
Of the young people
Hill Holliday surveyed who had quit
or considered quitting social media, 44% did so, she says, in order
"use time in more
"I don't know how people doing their A-levels or GCSEs have the
time for it," says Isabelle. "They're constantly studying, but
their only distraction is social media."
Rather than get sucked
into a "mindless vortex of never-ending scrolling," as she puts it,
when Isabelle isn't studying she prefers to be outdoors.
The fact that Gen Z have had their every move documented online
since before they could walk, talk, or even control their bowels
helps explain their antipathy to social media:
it makes sense for
them to strive for privacy, as soon as they reach the age when
they have a choice over their online image.
parents post pictures of their child's first potty online,"
says Amy Binns of the University of Central Lancashire.
"You think: 'Why
are you doing this to your child? They wouldn't want this to
Gen Z has an interest in
privacy that subtly sets them apart.
"Young people want to
get away from the curtain-twitching village, where everyone
knows everything about you," Binns says.
So while today's teens
spend a lot of time online, they don't actually share that much
And when they do share,
"You're painting a
picture of who you are and your image," says Binns. "It's your
own shop window or brand."
"Framing a picture and posting it on there is not a five-minute
thing," says Amanuel, explaining that any post will be
well-thought-out in order to project a certain image and
maximize likes. "It takes hours of deliberation."
"When social media started, we didn't really know what it was
going to mean," says Binns.
"Young people are
more aware of the value of privacy than we were 10 years ago."
Amanuel says that the
Cambridge Analytica story, with its exposure of widespread data
harvesting, helped prompt her to get off social media, and many more
young people seem to
be turning against Facebook.
On Tuesday, it was
reported that the number of Facebook users aged 18 to 24 in Britain
is expected to fall 1.8% this year.
Some of the teens I spoke to were concerned about how technologies
such as Snap Map - a Snapchat feature that tracks your friends
geographically, in real time - were spreading through their schools,
and mistrustful of the privacy consequences of being surveilled by
your followers wherever you go.
"Snap Map is this big
thing with a lot of my friends, but there is a sense of privacy
that is being breached as well," Isabelle says.
Teenagers are also
educated about the ramifications of an offensive tweet, or explicit
picture, as well as the health consequences of too much screen time.
"Young people are
being taught in schools about sharing nudes and how tweets can
travel around. They've seen the horror stories," says Binns.
"Constant screen time
damages your ability to see, and it also causes internal damage,
such as anxiety."
Studies have shown that
social media use can negatively affect mental wellbeing, and
adolescents are particularly susceptible:
representative survey of US 13- to 18-year-olds linked heavier
social media use to depression and suicide, particularly in
And 41% of the Gen Z
teens surveyed by Hill Holliday reported that social
media made them feel anxious, sad or depressed.
Photograph: Anna Gordon
for the Guardian
But quitting social media can create new anxieties.
"Our research shows
that the biggest fear of quitting or pausing social media is
missing out," Bielby says.
Some are more sanguine
"Do I miss out on
stuff?" Morgan asks.
"Yeah, of course.
People find it hard to keep in contact with me. They say: 'It
would be easier if you had this or that.' But I don't think it's
that hard to type in my number and send a text. You're just not
willing to do it."
Others struggle with the
fear of missing out.
"It's like everyone
in your friend group has gone to a party without telling you,"
At times, he questions
myself a lot. There are some days I'm really convinced I want to
reinstall it, not for myself, but because I want to appear
such as Johnson may not be outliers for ever.
In a world in which
everyone is online, renouncing social media is a renegade,
countercultural move: as quietly punk as shaving your head or
fastening your clothes with safety-pins.
Morgan has become a
svengali for classmates wanting to escape.
"My friends come to
me and say: 'Tyreke, I don't have social media any more,' and I
go: 'Why? I thought that's what you guys do.' And they say:
'Thanks to you, because of the things you said and the stuff
you're doing.' It's quite cool."
Quitting social media is
a determined move: apps including Facebook and Instagram are
designed to be addictive.
"Social media is so
ingrained in teenage culture that it's hard to take it out. But
when you do, it's such a relief," Amanuel says.
She has received a lot of
"admiration" from her peers for quitting.
"They wish they were
able to log off. People feel like social media is a part of them
and their identities as teenagers and something you need to do,"
"But I'm no less of a
teenager because I don't use it."