Social distancing from social media? Gen Z takes a stand against a toxic social culture

July 18, 2022

Jayde Robertson

If there is one thing that we thought we knew - was that Gen Z, and social media usage - were almost…synonymous. Having grown up as digital natives, never not being online - and having the world at their fingertips - quite literally, the social media usage trends of Gen Z have seemed somewhat predictable (if not reliable). But - and this is a big one. Gen Z values many things, some of which are just that much more important than social media. They value authenticity. They value sustainability. They value diversity. They value inclusion. And - they value mental health more than any generation before it.

2022 has been crazy. Just to add to the melting pot of unpredictability, Gen Z has taken a stab at social media, deeming it toxic - and worthy of waste.

WHAT? Yes - you read that right.

Gen Zers are notorious for being digital natives, but some twenty-somethings are standing up to apps like TikTok and Instagram that consume their time. These youngsters claim they're reclaiming control of their time by stepping away from the scroll, which they describe as "toxic" and "obsessive."

And it appears that the anti-app movement is gaining traction: a fresh study shows that Instagram is losing its hold on the next generation. Only 22% of respondents between the ages of 7 and 22 picked Meta's famous photo-sharing platform as their favorite app, down from 31% in spring 2020, according to a recent survey commissioned by investment bank Piper Sandler.

Now - to state the obvious. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation published last year, Facebook discovered that Instagram is damaging to teen girls and aggravate body image concerns, anxiety, and depression, but downplayed the importance of those internal research. To add fuel to an already raging fire - according to a Tallo survey from December 2021, 56% of Gen Zers believe "social media has caused them to feel left out by their peers."

According to the Tallo study, the majority of Gen Z respondents prefer TikTok to Instagram, with 34% naming it as their current favorite social networking platform.

Even the most devoted users, though, admit to having doubts about the video-sharing phenomenon. Halle Kaufax, 23, admitted to being enslaved by TikTok and having "no willpower" to erase the app from her phone.

Could it be time for social media to clean up its act - so to speak

Experts argue that because of their rising awareness of how it can severely influence their mental health, young people, who are the drivers and target audience for sites like Instagram, are hungry to see more authenticity online. Commentators on social media are observing a shift in behavior away from Instagram's highly polished, visually pleasing world in favor of a "simple, back to basics" reality that is delivering people more realistic and approachable role models.

Campaigns like #filterdrop, which invited social media users to upload selfies without using a filter in 2020 in the hopes of seeing "more actual skin" online, are supporting this trend.

Sasha Pallari, the campaign's leader, said she noticed how harmful the use of filters - which may brighten your face, change the curve of your nose, or augment your lips - was to people's mental health.

So… Now what?

Just as we began to think that we had come to grips with this generation - they managed to surprise us again.

Gender fluidity is one of the most telling indicators of "undefined ID," but it's far from the only one. Generation Z is always linked. They are continually evaluating massive amounts of data and impacts. The self is a place for people to experiment, test, and evolve. Seven out of ten Gen Zers believe it is necessary to defend identity-related causes, therefore they are more interested in human rights, race, and ethnicity concerns, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, and transgender issues, and feminism than prior generations.

Gen Z is a generation that is radically inclusive. They don't discriminate between online pals and friends they meet in person. They are constantly flowing across communities that employ the high level of mobilization made available by technology to promote their interests. Online communities are important to Gen Zers because they allow people from all walks of life to connect and rally around common causes and interests. Simultaneously, they cherish conversation and accept differences of opinion with the organizations in which they participate, as well as with their own families, and they can deal with institutions that reject their personal values without abandoning those principles.

Here’s what we think.

While as marketers, we tend to support social media and all its advertising-related efforts - we appreciate the nuances that Gen Z is highlighting too. Hey - if they can successfully make the online world a safer, happier, and more inclusive place - then what’s the harm? All it really means is that we need to take a step back and re-learn everything that we thought we knew about marketing - especially for this generation. It’s time to give them what they want. Support their initiatives, and show them the real face, the real story, and the real reason behind our institutions. If we can live up to our values - if we can show them that we are just as authentic as they need us to be - then we will gain their support. This however shouldn’t be seen as a vanity stint. The point here is authenticity matters most to this generation. If they sense a lie - the trust is immediately lost - and so is your brand!

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