Journalist tries to summarize 8% of teens not on social media

Most American teenagers use social media. So, how should a journalist go about finding about those who do not?

Such abstention from social media places him in a small minority in his peer group. According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 92% of American teenagers (ages 13-17) go online daily, including 24% who say they are on their devices “almost constantly.” Seventy-one percent use Facebook, half are on Instagram, and 41% are Snapchat users. And nearly three-quarters of teens use more than one social-networking site. A typical teen, according to Pew, has 145 Facebook friends and 150 Instagram followers…

Most of the social-media abstainers whom I interviewed aren’t technophobes. On the contrary, they have mobile phones that they use to contact their friends, usually via text. They are internet-savvy and fully enmeshed in popular culture. And they are familiar with social media. They just don’t like it…

For many nonusers of social media, the immediacy of face-to-face interaction trumps the filtered intimacy of Facebook and Instagram. “I do love seeing kids otherwise attached to their phones equalize when they’re cut off,” says Katy Kunkel of McLean, Va., whose four children range in age from 7 to 12. None of them are on social media. Especially during the summer months, she notes, “The kids recalibrate much quicker than adults. They find a tribe, then fun or trouble in trees and creeks…. They are way more active by default.”

The children themselves don’t often feel that they are missing out. Even though “almost 100%” of his friends are on social media, Brian O’Neill says that he can’t recall a time when something important happened in his social circle and he didn’t hear about it. “They let me know if something is going on,” he said. Ms. Furman’s experience is similar: “Sometimes I wouldn’t understand a specific joke everyone was telling, but 90% of the time, it’s not really worth it—it’s just a joke.”

Small subpopulations like this – the 8% of teenagers not using social media – can be attractive to journalists and social scientists alike: what causes them to go against the pervasive social norms? However, studying such small groups is often difficult. Large-scale surveys will not pick up many of them as there aren’t many to find.

This journalist went the route of interviews which can provide more detail but take more time. Still, how do you find such teenagers to interview when they are not easy to track down online? (Well, these teenagers might be active on other parts of the web without being on social media.) Perhaps a snowball sample was used or a quota sample. And, how many teenagers should you interview? The article quotes just several teenagers – perhaps more were interviewed – and tries to suggest that these quotes are representative of the 8% of teenagers not on social media.

Does this article correctly identify the reasons behind why a few teenagers are not using social media? It is hard to know but I’m not too hopeful based on a limited number of interviews with teenagers who may or may not represent those 8%. This may work for a journalist but I hope it wouldn’t pass academic muster.

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