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College Students and Social Media – The Why and How Much is Too Much?

College students are using social media these days for advocacy. But what is the impact of social media on their day-to-day lives? Find out here.

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BLM pix alongside George Floyd and unfollow requests on social media

Past generations could only dream about the ease of online connectivity and information accessibility that we have today. And now, for techie college students like ourselves, the internet is ours for the taking.

With the widespread use of platforms from Reddit to Pinterest, you can’t eat a meal or do your homework without thinking about the connection or purpose social media gives users like you.

When 98% of adults ages 18 to 24 use social media, it is worth understanding the benefits of every tweet, post, and 15-second video.

When used correctly, social media has educational, therapeutic, and even advocative effects for college students. It’s true — that tiny smartphone in your palms can unlock a catalog of abilities that experts are still discovering.

Do we know the true extent of social media usage in our day-to-day lives, or are we just wasting time on a fake, online world? Read on to discover the why, how, and how much of an online connection; they may surprise you.

Why Do College Students Use Social Media?

A person on social media on their phone and computer set on a desk

Related: How To Educate Ourselves On Black Lives Matter 

As young adults into the hottest new trends, we don’t think about why college students use social media; we just use it. We pick up a smartphone or open a new tab to indulge in internet connectivity, but there is more to it than that.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 76% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Instagram, 75% of the same age range use Snapchat, and 55% use TikTok.

In contrast, older generations are more likely to use YouTube and Facebook. The same study found that 48% of 30- to 49-year-olds use Instagram, 24% of the same age range use Snapchat, and only 22% use TikTok. 

So, what are college students using Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok for, and why is our usage in these apps different from that of older generations?

According to a 2019 study from Marketing Charts, 33% of Generation Z participants recorded using social media to share pictures and updates, 30% of the same age range used social media to chat and hang out with friends, and 26% used social media to get inspired.

Following these top three reasons were 24% of Gen Z participants using social media to get news conveniently, 23% to get advice and how-to information, and 23% to follow celebrities.

The most popular social media usage among other generations was also to share pictures and updates, with 44% of millennials and 50% of Generation X participants saying it was one of the reasons they use social media.

However, Gen Z participants generally used social media for more reasons than other generations. For example, while 16% of Gen Z contributors said they used social media to influence, only 13% of millennials and 7% of Gen X contributors could say the same.

Gen Z respondents reported using social media more in every measured area of usage, except for sharing pictures and updates, getting news conveniently, expanding a professional network, getting news for dislike of mainstream media, and trolling/commenting.

What Are the Advantages of Using Social Media for Students?

A girl of color looking at her phone

Even when cautious parents warn against the brain-melting evil of technology, we college students know there is power with friends and facts at the touch of a virtual button. Besides; what can’t the Internet do?

Although excessive phone use and internet addiction can make social media more of a hindrance than a help, there are several advantages of using social media for students.

One of the most obvious aids is the connection to classmates and teachers. That tricky problem on integrals or that tough question about standard deviation can easily be resolved with a DM to a group member or a quick email to your professor. 

Even if classmates can’t help, social media sites grant easier access to information, whether that be through an online forum, a post in a Facebook group, or a message to your aunt.

More than just stay in contact with friends and family, social media can help you network with experts and future job employers. Sites like LinkedIn and MyOpportunity can give students the employment opportunities and business connections they need to get ahead in the workplace. 

According to the LinkedIn Pressroom, the site has 756 million members in 200 countries/regions around the world. With three people hired every minute on LinkedIn, you can’t go wrong with using the platform in your job search.

Increasing your skills and knowledge is another benefit of replacing paper textbooks with online resources. Nowadays, learning is as easy as following a painter’s Instagram account or liking a Facebook group with daily bird facts. 

Another advantage of social media is the increase in literacy skills like reading and writing. And the best part is we don’t even know they are improving, since browsing the internet seems more of a delight than a burden.  

A stack of newspapers can seem overwhelming to look through, but platforms like Facebook and Twitter casually suggest news articles for you to read that you didn’t know you wanted to.

After all the pragmatic uses comes an obvious one: using social media for friendship. After a frustrating day or monotonous weekend, a quick virtual chat with a friend may be just what you need to be sane in the pandemic. 

How Many Hours Do College Students Spend on Social Media?

A girl sitting on a bed with a phone and laptop on her lap

Related: How To Support The Black Lives Matter Movement In The Long Run

I guarantee you’ve wasted an afternoon on your phone or watched YouTube until midnight. Not even the occasional “Digital Wellbeing” TikTok could steal your interest from memes and satisfying hydraulic press squeezes.

We easily lose track of the time we spend online, especially when scrolling, swiping, and double-tapping take less effort than sitting up.

According to an aforementioned study by the Pew Research Center, 71% of 18- to 29-year-old Snapchat users reported using the app daily, with 60% using it multiple times a day. Similarly, 73% of 18- to 29-year-old Instagram users access the app daily, with 53% using it several times a day.

So, we love using the same apps consistently every day, rather than taking a break from our beloved streaks. But how does this contribute to overall usage, and how many hours do college students really spend on social media?

Digital Information World reported that in 2018, the average 16- to 64-year-old spent two hours and 22 minutes a day on social media.

However, the average 16- to 24-year-old spent three hours and one minute every day on social media, exceeding the combined average by 39 minutes.

This surpassed the usage of other generations, with 25- to 34-year-olds spending two hours and 37 minutes, while 35- to 44-year-olds spent two hours and four minutes a day on social media. 

So, while older age ranges are spending less time on social media, like the range of 55 to 64 spend one hour and 13 minutes, the range of 16 to 24 is spending more than three hours on social media.

Though hard to comprehend, if you are 16 to 24 and you use social media for fewer than three hours a day, you use it less frequently than the average.

Using Social Media for Digital Activism

Black Lives Matter

Related: Best Remote Jobs For College Students – The Ultimate 2021 Guide 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and murders of Black individuals have sparked a new outcry on social media. College students and young people alike have been using their platforms to amplify BIPOC voices and educate their followers.

Social media has typically been a space where users can promote their own lives, lifestyles, and looks. However, recent months have proven to be politically fueled and tense, leading many users to utilize their social platforms to speak out about current issues.

The BLM movement in particular has seen extreme promotion and discussion on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. College students have been posting memes and graphics about points of controversy, as well as informational posts, in an effort to educate their followers.

College student and Instagram user Maggie has also been using social media to persist in promoting BLM. She remarked about how seeing others coming together to use their platforms for this movement inspired her to “focus less on the superficial, and more on issues that actually matter.”

Being a typical college student, Maggie admitted that she mostly uses her Instagram platform to post pictures of herself and her friends.

“I’ve never seen or used Instagram as a political space or a space for activism before, and to be honest have always just focused on how many likes or views I get on my pictures,” Maggie said.

In contrast, the prominence of BLM posts and resources on Instagram has shown Maggie that she does have a platform and a voice that can be used to advocate for the issues that matter. “Now, I see my platform as a privilege and something I can use to uplift others. I now know that social media must be used for something bigger,” Maggie said.

On the other hand, another college student and Instagram user, Jack, pointed out some negatives about people using Instagram as a means to promote BLM. Jack talked about how some people have allowed themselves to become “passive” in the movement by simply reposting resources and BLM graphics while not actually actively getting involved.

In other words, a precedent has been set by the influx of BLM content on social media. Many users may believe that simply reposting sources and screenshotting graphics for Instagram stories is enough to enact change and show support. In reality, spreading these resources is only the beginning of educating users about BLM and white privilege. 

Jack explained, “while it’s helpful for people to post what they see about BLM, it makes them think that just posting something is enough of a contribution. People need to educate themselves while also showing up for protests, having conversations with their families and friends, and donating to BLM organizations.”

Social media has been a helpful tool for activism in recent months, but posts and Instagram stories are only the tip of the iceberg representing all that needs to be done to heal and uplift the Black community.

Similarly, college student, Tom, shared his feeling that some people have been able to hide behind social media as a way to assert that they are not racist. He said, “People have seen how much traction the BLM movement has gained on social media, all of their friends are posting, and they’re scared that if they don’t participate that they will be seen as racist.”

According to Tom, the current activist-driven space on Instagram is a way for people who don’t care about the movement to passively post just to “stay woke” or show that they “care.” Tom wants people to know that simply posting on social media isn’t enough to show that you care. BLM is a matter of supporting human rights, not “taking a political stance.”

The constant posts on social media have unfortunately caused people to confuse the difference between these two ideas. While posting is somewhat helpful, Tom believes that the fight for BIPOC rights and racial equality is one that must be won through concerted action.

Both Tom and Jack agree that social media is a great way to promote BLM and educate people on BIPOC struggles, but they also see it as lacking content that may actually cause institutional change.

In reality, the persistence to promote BLM must be seen not only on social media, but also in protests, donations, constructive conversations, and education.

That’s a wrap. This article was all about college students and social media.

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