Snapchat? Instagram? An Analysis of Social Media

Illustration by Ben Merrylees

by Karli Robertson

Snapchat lights up on 800 million screens, Instagram opens on 500 million screens and Facebook is seen on 1.8 billion screens each month.

Odds are, if you have a smartphone, you have at least one of these social media apps. In fact, the website Statista declares, “As of 2016, 78 percent of the United States population has a social networking profile.” That’s nearly four out of five Americans. The majority of users on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are young people from the millennial and centennial generations. Many older, electronically challenged people are teased because of their inability to understand and navigate through the inner workings of these websites. They are commonly confused by the purpose of such networks. However, youths seem to know exactly what, where and when to post on each. An adult will ask “Why post this here and that there?” and “What’s the point in having all three?” A teen might say, “Because that’s just how it is.” But, it’s the varying structures of social networks that result in specific behavioral norms on these apps, allowing for different means of self-expression.

Snapchat enables individual messages to be sent from one friend to another in the form of a video or image, potentially with a caption. Users can also send a text message on the app’s chat feature. The most prominent characteristic of this network is that it is temporary. Once a picture is received, it cannot be seen again. Once a video is uploaded to a user’s story, the ten-seconds-or-under recording will disappear after 24 hours. Of course, there are exceptions. The capturer of these moments is able to save their memories to their own device. The same goes for chats, unless they are saved, they will vanish when the screen displaying the text is closed. The receiver of the moment is also able to save an image by taking a screenshot.

Snapchat is, “the most popular (app) by a landslide,” says Business Insider after interviewing 60 teenagers from across America. The format of this network allows users to instantly send their chosen friend(s) a view of what they’re doing at an exact moment. There is no carried weight or fear of judgement that comes with the permanence of posts on other apps. This causes users to behave carelessly, sending ugly selfies and blurry pictures of comedic incidents. With access to easy, rapid communication like this, Snapchat doesn’t fail to fascinate its users.

Instagram successfully captivates an audience of 300 million active users daily. With a focus on photos, this app’s grid-like format clearly displays posted images and allows for simple viewing. The most recent photo uploaded appears in the upper left corner under a person’s profile. The app also has “direct message” where users communicate through texting. The number of “followers” is shown beside the username and amount of  “likes” is seen under each image or under-one-minute video. Depending on who a user follows and the more pictures they look at, the more the search page will show photos that reflect that person’s preferences.

Professional Instagrams run by businesses, photographers, and models thrive on this network due to the easy publicity. Eye-catching photographs encourage large amounts of people to tap the “follow” button so they can see the images a person posts by scrolling through their home screen. Growing numbers of followers motivate amatuer photographers to obtain as many likes as they can, as they attempt to craft their pictures into a piece of art. Helper apps like VSCO and Instasize are made for users to edit their photos. Dramatic selfies, scenic views, images of food and pictures against colorful walls (all taken on smartphones) fill the majority of feeds.

This growing amount of high quality images has pressured users into making additional accounts called “finstas” (fake instagrams) where they post whatever they want without worry of quality, theme or aesthetic. Finstas are often filled with impulsive images and ridiculous screenshots, whereas “real” accounts contain carefully crafted photo art. Artsy photos from friends next door and  humorous videos from friends across the sea both are seen on an Instagrammer’s home screen.

On a Facebook home screen, photographs and text are there for all to see, however, this website has much more. The app constantly encourages users to post by displaying, “What’s on your mind?” at the top of the home page along with suggesting that people “Check In (at this location).” Like Instagram, users can post photos, videos, promote their business and see what friends are doing. However, only on Facebook will people successfully connect with one another in a way no other website can. Family photos are posted, events are scheduled, public service announcement videos are spread, emotions are voiced and birthday reminders show up everyday. This format is designed for people to create a profile that exhibits who they are and what they think. Facebook becomes an archive with photos and updates informing users of their friends’ whereabouts, activities and emotions.

Facebook also provides a separate app called “Messenger” which is nearly identical to iMessage on Apple products. People talk directly with their Facebook friends and make group chats for easy communication. Facebook is the most widely used social media network with ages ranging from tweens to octogenarians. But, why does everyone have it? Facebook makes the complicated, arduous task of communicating simple. People want to feel like they are still involved with their friends’ lives. Talking on the phone is a hassle, writing a letter is burdensome, but liking a Facebook post is nearly effortless. Although this downplays the importance of true correspondence, a “like” or “comment” is like someone saying, “Hey, this is cool and I care enough to tell you that.” Facebook is the ultimate network for communicating.

The telos of social media is to connect and apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook do a good job at bridging the gap between people. These networks act as lenses into a person’s world, each showing a varying perspective in a unique format. The website Statista remarks that, “the number of worldwide users is expected to reach some 2.95 billion by 2020, around a third of Earth’s entire population.” This mass amount of electronic connection is powerful. To consumers, programmers revise the structure of a network in, what seems like, a blink of an eye. With only a small update, the way people communicate, behave and express themselves can be changed for billions. The internet did not become widely used until 20 years ago. It was just starting to exist 30 years ago. Today we tap our fingers on a screen and send a video to a person thousands of miles away within seconds. Look at how much we can do now and then imagine how much we’ll be doing next.

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