Teens Find The Right Tools For Their Social-Media Jobs

Jun 17, 2013
Originally published on June 17, 2013 5:45 pm

Once upon a time, it was MySpace. (Huh. Turns out you can still link to it.) Then Facebook happened. And Twitter. And beyond those two dominant social-media platforms, there are a host of other, newer options for staying in touch and letting the digital universe get a look at your life. And for certain kinds of sharing, some of those other options make more sense to tech-savvy teens than the Big Two do.

On today's All Things Considered, NPR's Sami Yenigun talks to a roomful of teenagers to see who uses which for what these days. (The answer, like most involving tech or teens, is subject to change like the weather.)

Some takeaways:

Facebook is for finding old friends, and maybe for arranging parties. (Unless they're the kind of parties you don't want the police knowing about. "Oftentimes, parties that are all over social media get busted by the cops really easily," one 17-year-old tells Sami.)

Twitter is more for personal expression. "People be in their feelings on Twitter — they vent," says Jamal Royster, 18.

Visual communication? It's a different mode of connection. And as with text-based platforms, use cases vary among the teens Sami talked to.

Vine is where you publish (and watch) short video clips — seven seconds or so. People make all kinds of clever short films with the app. Check out Waka Flocka Elmo, a recent viral hit recommended by 17-year-old Jesse Aniebonam.

Instagram, a relative veteran in the pics-and-flicks category, is the go-to app when it comes to documenting your days and nights. "I Instagram everything," says Grace Plihal, 18. "It's kind of my way of showing myself to the world, I guess."

(Interesting, that, given how much control Instagram gives users over the look and feel of what they post. "Showing myself" is a telling way to put it.)

But the observation that struck me most, when Sami told me about the shape of his story, was this one, from 13-year-old Caroline Lamb. There are times when you want to take a back seat to the story you're telling, she suggests — and those are the times for Tumblr.

Here's how she puts it in her own words:

Oh, one last entry: Snapchat is for selfies you don't want to show up later — like when a college admissions counselor goes Googling for you. Users send snapshots back and forth using a proprietary app.

What makes 'em different from the photos in the MMS messages you can send using most phones' built-in text-messaging programs? Well, you can set Snapchat images to self-destruct: They disappear at most 10 seconds after the recipient views them.

So, Snapchat? It's a near certainty that you don't want to know what the teenagers in your life are doing with it.

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Remember MySpace? It used to be the social media juggernaut, the place where teens especially made personalized Web pages. Then Facebook took over and more of teens' online social lives moved to phones. Now, the conversations are spread across many social networks.

For our monthly look at media for young people, NPR's Sami Yenigun talked with a group of suburban teens to find out how they use all these different platforms.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Jamal Royster's phone is packed with apps, all the usual suspects.

JAMAL ROYSTER: I got some Twitter, some Snapchat, some Vine, Instagram and Facebook.

YENIGUN: This cozy living room in suburban Maryland has about a dozen teens sitting on couches and the carpeted floor. They've come to tell me how they talk to friends, to friends of friends, to Facebook friends.

ROYSTER: Long lost friends, you usually hit them up on Facebook, like messages. I've gotten messages like that. And I caught up with my friends, like I'm catching up with my friend Paul right now.

YENIGUN: But 17-year-old Jelani Williamson says he doesn't use it much anymore.

JELANI WILLIAMSON: I used to be on Facebook daily until my aunt friend requested me.


YENIGUN: But there are a couple things Facebook is still good for, practical things like messaging, coordinating on school projects when you don't want to hand out your phone number, and inviting friends to parties. Well, parties at someone else's house, Williamson says.

WILLIAMSON: Oftentimes, like, parties that are all over social media get, like, busted by the cops really easily.

YENIGUN: OK. So how do you invite friends over without inviting the 5-0? Eighteen-year-old Darien Carr used to use the messaging app Kik when he had an iPod touch. Kik is just like texting, but over the Internet. No cellphone service required. But then Carr got an iPhone and Kik sort of dropped off.

DARIEN CARR: Not a lot of people had it and it was just more practical to text people than to use Kik.

YENIGUN: For quick one-on-one conversations, texting rules. But for personal expression, teens like Royster take to Twitter.

ROYSTER: People be in their feelings on Twitter. They vent.

YENIGUN: It's a place for opinions, Williamson says.

WILLIAMSON: Usually, I tweet, like, what's on my mind, like, oh, like, Beyonce looks amazing in this video.

YENIGUN: But Twitter's focus is text. When these kids want a more visual way to share themselves, they do what Grace Plihal does.

GRACE PLIHAL: I'm a self-proclaimed Instagram addict. I Instagram everything. Like, it's kind of like my way of showing my life to the world, I guess. So, yeah, I use it a lot.

YENIGUN: Plihal's world - her friends, her surroundings - are sent through grainy filters to her 600-something Instagram followers. She says she takes a lot of selfies, pictures of herself hanging out in New York, chilling in the subway, spending time with her siblings, et cetera.

Jelani Williamson says it's how you let your friends know you're keeping it real.

WILLIAMSON: Instagram is used to, like, verify your life because, like, at school and things like that, you can just say that you do things that you don't. And people do that a lot. But if you Instagram it, it's like, yes, I didn't make this up.

YENIGUN: But not everyone feels comfortable posting pictures of themselves online, and for those camera-shy sharers, there's Tumblr, says Caroline Lamb.

CAROLINE LAMB: It's showing your life without showing your face. So, like Instagram, you show your life and yourself and your life. But on Tumblr you, like, put quotes and pictures of other people doing funny stuff.

YENIGUN: It's well understood in this group of kids that once a picture makes its way onto a site like Tumblr, it'll likely never fully disappear from the Web. So what if you want to share a picture, but you don't want it to hang around? Royster says Snapchat.

ROYSTER: The reason for Snapchat, like, whoever thought of that, like, I'm worried about what they were thinking about.




ROYSTER: Pictures that just disappear after 10 seconds, like, yeah.

YENIGUN: Makes sense that selfies get a little racy when they only live for a little while. Snapchat, like Instagram, is for still photos. And one of the newer platforms, Vine, is for short films. Really short, seven seconds. Seventeen-year-old Jesse Anebonem says Vine videos tend to be well thought out short movies. His favorite this week...

JESSE ANEBONEM: The "Waka Flocka Elmo" Vine.



YENIGUN: That's a seven-second loop of "Sesame Street's" favorite red furball getting down to the sounds of "Waka Flocka Flame." But this video wasn't just on Vine. When you upload, Vine lets you post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. All of these networks are connected. In fact, Anebonem says he watches Vines without even having the Vine app.

ANEBONEM: For some reason, my phone won't let me download Vine. I don't know why. But if I see it on Twitter, I'll, like, favorite it and then show somebody because it's funny.

YENIGUN: One person in this room, 15-year-old Carmen Hamlet, has been really quiet this whole time.

CARMEN HAMLET: I don't have a phone.


YENIGUN: So when Hamlet wants to hang in this vibrant cyber world of jokes, jams and social scrapbooking, she has to borrow a phone or she could always go back to a computer.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.