Gen Z gets real, flees traditional social media platforms for more authentic upstarts

"Zoomers," the cohort born between 1997 and 2012, are the only generation to report a reduction in the use of old standbys like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, citing a lack of trust as one of the major reasons why.

Published: January 14, 2023 5:31pm

Updated: January 14, 2023 11:05pm

In recent years, Generation Z, the demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012, has become the only generation to report a reduction in the use of traditional social media platforms like Facebook (Meta), Twitter, and Instagram, citing a lack of trust as one of the major reasons why. 

Although Gen Z, sometimes referred to as "zoomers," has reported less use of traditional social apps, TikTok remains exceptionally popular with the demo. This, perhaps, has something to do with TikTok’s algorithm, which, according to digital entrepreneur AJ Kumar, was built on an "interest graph." TikTok, he explained, works by taking a user's interests and content they interact with, capturing their likes and dislikes, and then associating the user with user groups comprised of others who share similar interests, writes Kumar. 

TikTok is more tailored to content, while the likes of Instagram revolve more around paid ads, according to digital marketing, design and entrepreneurship blogger Darya Jandossova Troncoso. More traditional platforms have been accused of being designed to keep people in their echo chambers. TikTok doesn’t appear to do this (of course, more serious criticisms have been leveled against the Chinese app). 

Moreover, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — created in 2004, 2006, and 2010, respectively — lack the newness of TikTok, an app that was created in 2016 but only gained worldwide popularity in 2018 and notoriety in 2021. 

Gen Z don’t just find older platforms uncool, they also find them inauthentic — conduits for artificiality and unrealistic beauty standards. As Axios reported last year, Gen Zers are rejecting and reproaching traditional social networks for failing to reflect their interests.

Gen Z, it appears, is changing the way we communicate. Fed up with the endless chasing after likes, shares and new followers — not to mention the deleterious effects of these platforms on their mental health — zoomers are embracing new apps that focus more on simple content creation. 

Take BeReal, for example, a photo-sharing company that asks users to literally "be real." This realness involves users posting an unfiltered photo of themselves every 24 hours. "Every day," according to the app's website, "at a different time, everyone is notified simultaneously to capture and share a Photo in 2 Minutes." 

BeReal offers a "new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life," the app boasts. The app doesn't deal in likes or followers, and there are no ads. Fittingly enough, there are no filters either. 

Created in 2020, supposedly to spread a more positive message, BeReal is now incredibly popular. With its focus on honest representations of real life, it has quickly grown to become Gen Z's favorite app. BeReal now has 10 million daily users, most of them under the age of 25 and residing in the U.S. In fact, two-thirds of the app's unique visitors are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Other new apps attracting zoomers with a focus on authenticity include SideChat, Poparazzi, and Locket. The first is an app that allows users to sign up with their university email addresses and write anonymous posts visible only to students who attend the same educational institute. Poparazzi, meanwhile, is a photo-sharing network that allows friends to act as each other's paparazzi. User profiles are built not by themselves but by their friends. Finally, Locket is a free app that encourages users to add photos to their friends' homescreens. Members of Gen Z, it appears, can’t get enough of Locket. 

But don't write traditional social media's obituary just yet. As a recent piece in Wired noted, Meta, Twitter, and other stalwarts will inevitably respond to this seismic shift. 

"As they continue to lose users to the disruptors putting genuine connection first, we can expect to see these social giants expand their product features and reshape themselves in these new players' image," wrote venture capitalist Sonali De Rycker, highlighting the fact that "Instagram has already launched a BeReal-style 'Dual Camera' feature." 

In 2020, YouTube, in direct response to TikTok's success, created Shorts, a short-form way for creators to share content in 60-second bursts. Shorts was first launched in India as a beta test after TikTok was banned there. Since then, YouTube's vertical video creation has skyrocketed in popularity. Shorts claims 1.5 billion monthly viewers, 500,000 more than its rival TikTok. 

Traditional Big Tech platforms are nothing if not resilient. They are no doubt assessing what the likes of BeReal and similar apps are offering, and planning new ways to compete with and best the competition. 

The fight for Gen Z's attention is far from over.

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