The rise of social media (2022)

Social media sites are used by more than two-thirds of all internet users. When did the rise of social media start and what are the largest sites today?

by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina

Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world, has 2.4 billion users. Other social media platforms including Youtube and Whatsapp also have more than one billion users each.

These numbers are huge – there are 7.7 billion people in the world, with at least 3.5 billion of us online. This means social media platforms are used by one-in-three people in the world, and more than two-thirds of all internet users.

Social media has changed the world. The rapid and vast adoption of these technologies is changing how we find partners, how we access information from the news, and how we organize to demand political change.

Who uses social media? When did the rise of social media start and what are the largest sites today? Here we answer these and other key questions to understand social media use around the world.

We begin with an outline of key trends and conclude with a perspective on the rate of adoption of social media relative to other modern communication technologies.

Social media started in the early 2000s

(Video) The Rise of Social Media 2002 - 2030 | Evolution of SocialMedia

The first social media site to reach a million monthly active users was MySpace –it achieved this milestone around 2004. This is arguably the beginning of social media as we know it.1

In the interactive chart we plot monthly active users, by platform, since 2004. You can use the slider to focus on particular years, and you can click the ‘+ Add’ option to change series and track the evolution of other social media platforms.

This chart shows that there are some large social media sites that have been around for ten or more years, such as Facebook, YouTube and Reddit; but other large sites are much newer.

TikTok, for example, launched in September 2016 and by mid-2018 it had already reached half a billion users. To put this in perspective: TikTok gained on average about 20 million new users per month over this period.

The data also shows rapid changes in the opposite direction. Once-dominant platforms have disappeared. In 2008, Hi5, MySpace and Friendster were close competitors to Facebook, yet by 2012 they had virtually no share of the market. The case of MySpace is remarkable considering that in 2006 it temporarily surpassed Google as the most visited website in the US.

Most of the social media platforms that survived the last decade have shifted significantly in what they offer users. Twitter, for example, didn’t allow users to upload videos or images in the beginning. Since 2011 this is possible and today more than 50% of the content viewed on Twitter includes images and videos.

Click to open interactive version

Facebook has dominated the social media market for a decade, but five other platforms also have more than half a billion users each

With 2.3 billion users, Facebook is the most popular social media platform today. YouTube, Instagram and WeChat follow, with more than a billion users. Tumblr and TikTok come next, with over half a billion users.

(Video) The History of Social Media

The bar chart shows a ranking of the top social media platforms, year by year. You can drag the slider in this chart to see the ranking for other years.

Click to open interactive version

Some social media sites are particularly popular among specific population groups

The aggregate numbers mask a great deal of heterogeneity across platforms – some social media sites are much more popular than others among specific population groups.

In general, young people are more likely to use social media than older people. But some platforms are much more popular among younger people. This is shown in the chart where we plot the breakdown of social media use by age groups in the US.

For Snapchat and Instagram the ‘age gradient’ is extremely steep – the popularity of these platforms drops much faster with age. The majority of people under 25 use Snapchat (73%), while only 3% of people over 65 use it.

Since these platforms are relatively new, it’s hard to know how much of this age gradient is the result of a “cohort effect”. In other words: it’s unclear whether today’s young people will continue using Snapchat as they become older. If they do, the age gradient would narrow.

Let’s now look at gender differences.

In this other chart we show the percentage of men and women who use different platforms in the US. The diagonal line marks parity;so sites above the diagonal line are those more popular among men and sites below are those more popular among women. (Bubble sizes are proportional to the total number of users of each platform.)

For some platforms the gender differences are very large. The share of women who use Pinterest is more than twice as high as the share of men using this platform. For Reddit it is the other way around, the share of men is almost twice as high.

The rise of social media (3)
Click to open interactive version
(Video) How Social Media is Destroying Society

In rich countries almost all young people use social media

From a back-of-the-envelope calculation we know that, if Facebook has 2.3 billion users, then at least 30% of the world uses social media.2 This is of course just an average – for some world regions, and specifically for some population groups, usage rates are much higher.

Young people tend to use social media more frequently. In fact, in rich countries, where access to the internet is nearly universal, the vast majority of young adults use it.

Our chart here shows the proportion of people aged 16 to 24 who use social networks across a selection of countries. As we can see, the average for the OECD is close to 90%.

If today’s young adults continue using social media throughout their life, then it’s likely that social media will continue growing rapidly as internet adoption expands throughout lower-income countries.

Click to open interactive version

The rise of social media in rich countries has come together with an increase in the amount of time spent online

The increase in social media use over the last decade has, of course, come together with a large increase in the amount of time that people spend online.

In the US, adults spend more than 6 hours per day on digital media (apps and websites accessed through mobile phones, tablets, computers and other connected devices such as game consoles). As the chart shows, this growth has been driven almost entirely by additional time spent on smartphones and tablets.3

(Video) Most Popular Social Media - Growth Evolution (2004-2022)

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, adults aged 18 to 29 in the US are more likely to get news indirectly via social media than directly from print newspapers or news sites; and they also report being online ‘almost constantly’.4

There is evidence that in other rich countries people also spend many hours per day online. The next chart shows the number of hours young people spend on the internet across a selection of rich countries. As we can see, the average for the OECD is more than 4 hours per day, and in some countries the average is above 6 hours per day.

Click to open interactive version
Click to open interactive version

Some perspective on how fast and profound these rapid changes are

The percentage of US adults who use social media increased from 5% in 2005 to 79% in 2019. Even on a global stage the speed of diffusion is striking: Facebook surged from covering around 1.5% of the world population in 2008, to around 30% in 2018.5

How does this compare to the diffusion of other communication technologies that make part of our everyday life today?

The following chart provides some perspective.

Social media’s growth in the US is comparable – in speed and to some extent also in reach – to that of most modern communication-enabling technologies, including computers, smartphones and the internet.

The rise of social media is an extraordinary example of how quickly and drastically social behaviours can change: Something that is today part of the everyday life of one-third of the world population, was unthinkable less than a generation ago.

Fast changes like those brought about by social media always spark fears about possible negative effects. Specifically in the context of social media, a key question is whether these new communication technologies are having a negative impact on our mental health – this is an important question and we cover the evidence at Our World in Data here.

Click to open interactive version
(Video) The Death of Social Media Influencers, The Rise of the Mediapreneurs

FAQs

What is the rise of social media? ›

Social media started in the early 2000s

The first social media site to reach a million monthly active users was MySpace – it achieved this milestone around 2004. This is arguably the beginning of social media as we know it. In the interactive chart we plot monthly active users, by platform, since 2004.

What led to the rise of social media? ›

The Launch of Social Sites

They introduced users to digital communication through email, bulletin board messaging, and real-time online chatting. This gave rise to the earliest social media networks, beginning with the short-lived Six Degrees profile uploading service in 1997.

When did social media rise in popularity? ›

However, believe it or not, social media is even younger than that. In fact, it wasn't until the late 1990s that it really became popular however it took even longer, until around 2005, for it to become the social and cultural institution it is today.

How has the rise of social media affected society? ›

Social Media is relatively a newer technology, hence, it is a little difficult to establish its long-term good and bad consequences. However, multiple researchers have concluded a strong relationship between heavy use of social media platforms with an increase in risk of depression, self-harm, anxiety, and loneliness.

What is the impacts of social media? ›

However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

How did social media change the world? ›

Social media has helped many businesses grow and promote itself, and has helped people find a better way to connect and communicate with one another. On the other hand, it's also provided many people with problems involving mental health, emotional insecurities, and waste of time.

Why social media become popular? ›

People crave interaction and connection with other people. This is a main reason why social media has become so popular over the last decade. Via social media, brands can create opportunities to share and recognize loyal followers with special rewards and incentives.

What are benefits of social media? ›

Here are five benefits of using social media:
  • Build relationships. Social media is not just about brands connecting with their customers. ...
  • Share your expertise. Social media gives you an opportunity to talk about what you know and what you want to be known for. ...
  • Increase your visibility. ...
  • Educate yourself. ...
  • Connect anytime.
22 Apr 2014

Why is social media important? ›

It is a valuable communication tool with others locally and worldwide, as well as to share, create, and spread information. Social media can influence consumer's purchase decisions through reviews, marketing tactics and advertising.

How has social media developed? ›

The first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular, creating a social media sensation that's still popular today.

When did social media become a thing? ›

1. The first social media site is born (1997) On one of the first true social media sites, SixDegrees.com, you could set up a profile page, create lists of connections, and send messages within networks.

Why social media is addicting? ›

Using social media can lead to physical and psychological addiction because it triggers the brain's reward system to release dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine is actually a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) involved in neurological and physiological functioning.

What positive impact does social media have on society? ›

But one of the biggest positive effects of social media has been its ability to rally support and unite users during moments that matter. Using social media, these important causes have been able to call for donations, share important information and find innovative ways to unite users in meaningful and powerful ways.

How social media affect our life essay? ›

If the use of social media is not monitored, it can lead to grave consequences. It is harmful because it invades your privacy like never before. The oversharing happening on social media makes children a target for predators and hackers. It also leads to cyberbullying which affects any person significantly.

What is the impact of media in our daily life? ›

They Determine Our Place in the World

The media greatly influences society. They inform people about what is happening. It permeates people's lives by creating their own criteria and opinions. In this way the media moves the masses, creating different social movements.

How social media controls our lives? ›

The purpose of social media is to share your best memories in life to others that you add or follow. But sometimes social media can get out of the user's control and can lead to problems such as drama, bullying, trolling, harassment, and much more. The problem is that we are faced with stress over what they see on IG.

Is social media helpful or harmful? ›

Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health.

What are the positive effects of media? ›

Some positive effects include: Motor skills are improved by typing, clicking, playing games, and other tech related finger skills. Hand eye coordination or even quick thinking can be helped. Access to mass news media can improve reading skills.

What is the role of media in society development? ›

In democracies, the media is fundamental to political life. It provides facts to allow us to be better informed about the issues that matter to us. It provides criticism and debate to ensure that that information is tested and examined from all points of view.

Where did social media start? ›

Social media's birth dates back to the 24th of May, 1844, when the telegraph machine was invented. Samuel Morse sent a message from Baltimore to Washington D.C. The rise of social media began in 1969 when the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) has emerged.

What are the pros and cons of social media? ›

Pros & Cons of Social Media
ProsCons
Put yourself out there in a good wayPosting inappropriate statuses/pictures
Connect with students in other educational systemsMaking people feel bad about themselves
Make new friends/communicate or connect with old friends/familyCyberbullying
15 more rows

Was life better before social media? ›

Before social media, the way we socialized was different. We didn't have the same access to each other or the same opportunities to communicate with each other. You might think that's why we're less socially active, but in reality, it's just made us more efficient at interacting with each other.

Who invented the idea of social media? ›

The First Social Networks

Six Degrees founder Andrew Weinreich, sometimes referred to as the father of social networking, created his platform to help people connect with people they didn't know (yet).

What is the most used social media? ›

Facebook

With nearly 3 billion monthly users, Facebook is inarguably the largest and most popular social media platform in the world.

How social media affects your brain? ›

Researchers believe that since social media competes for your attention with the promise of continuous new content, heavy social media users become less able to ignore distraction in general, which leads to poorer cognitive performance and shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining concentration.

Is social media killing our creativity? ›

If we only ever consume other people's content and never create anything ourselves, then yes, social media will probably have a negative impact on our creativity. But if we use social media as a way to share our own ideas and connect with other creative people, then it can actually be a force for good.

How are people influenced by media? ›

Media messages can have a negative or unhealthy influence on pre-teen and teenage behaviour and attitudes in certain areas, including self-image, body image, health and citizenship. Your child's self-image and body image can be influenced by social media, other media and advertising.

Is social media making us more social? ›

Social media makes us more social. The positive impacts of social media outweigh the negatives by allowing us to engage more with people we know, people we don't and create positive changes by a few taps on a screen. Today, we see that people have lots of friends with friend lists consisting over hundreds of friends.

How social media makes our life better or worse? ›

Some people get confident by Social Media, sharing their life and positivity influence people better way. Some people find a new friend on Social Media and have fun in communication. Social Media gave us the freedom of speech, sharing our own thoughts, or emotions, sometimes give a big impact on individuals.

What is the impact of social media on privacy? ›

However, as social media has grown over the years, so has the risk of data breaches. As more and more information gets placed online, there is an increased danger of hackers, companies, and malicious interlopers mining your data in ways that undermine personal privacy. And in some cases, your data is outright stolen.

What is the conclusion of using social media? ›

Social media has taken its position into the real world and has interfered with the lives of many. As users log on to their social media profiles, they are being removed away from the real world and placed into the virtual dimension.

What are the positive and negative effects of media? ›

While it can provide a platform for your teenagers to express themselves, develop social skills, etc., it can also have some negative effects–instilling false messages, false beliefs, violent behavior, spending too much time in front of a screen may cause health and development issues.

How Fast Is social media Growing? ›

Social network platforms almost tripled their total user base in the last decade, from 970 million in 2010 to the number passing 4.48 billion users in July 2021.
...
Daily time on social media growth statistics.
YearTime (minutes)Growth (%)
Q3 201713404.70
Q3 201814206.00
Q3 201914401.40
Q3 202014500.69
2 more rows
10 Oct 2021

What is the purpose of social media? ›

Billions of people around the world use social media to share information and make connections. On a personal level, social media allows you to communicate with friends and family, learn new things, develop your interests, and be entertained.

What caused the rise in use of digital media in 2016? ›

The pandemic fuelled the adoption rate of digital in India coupled with the high consumption of digital video and the growth of regional content.

What is the origin of social media? ›

1. The first social media site is born (1997) On one of the first true social media sites, SixDegrees.com, you could set up a profile page, create lists of connections, and send messages within networks.

What are benefits of social media? ›

Here are five benefits of using social media:
  • Build relationships. Social media is not just about brands connecting with their customers. ...
  • Share your expertise. Social media gives you an opportunity to talk about what you know and what you want to be known for. ...
  • Increase your visibility. ...
  • Educate yourself. ...
  • Connect anytime.
22 Apr 2014

What are advantages of social media? ›

The advantages of social media are plenty. These include fostering connections with people from different cultures, getting the latest updates on trending topics, sharing your creativity, and interacting with individuals who have similar interests.

How popular is social media today? ›

In the US, 54% of social media users are female, while the remaining 46% are male, compared with a global average of 45.6% for female, and 54.4% for male. 40% of all internet users worldwide utilize social media for work purposes.
...
Social Media Statistics Details.
NetworkActive users (MM)
Instagram1386
FB Messenger1300
WeChat1242
TikTok732
13 more rows

Is social media good for society? ›

The truth is that social media can also be beneficial for society. It can help individuals connect and deepen their relationships. Social media also encourages students to learn and grow. And it can empower businesses to build their audiences and boost their bottom line.

Is social media helpful or harmful? ›

Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health.

Why is digital media increasing? ›

Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and other devices, it's never been easier to consume digital media and content from anywhere. In other words, there's no longer a need to be in front of a computer to read an article or watch a video; you can do it anytime, anywhere, even on the go.

What kind of impact do digital media? ›

Research shows that when digital media is used excessively by humans, it can negatively influence their behavioral and cognitive development as well as their physical and mental health. As a society, it seems that as much as digital media has connected us across boundaries, we are more disconnected to each other.

Why digital media is important? ›

The universality of digital media means that people from all walks of life—economic, cultural, political, religious, and ideological—can communicate and learn from one another. In times of emotional hardship, many people turn to social media to reach out to friends and family and receive comfort and encouragement.

Who invented the idea of social media? ›

The First Social Networks

Six Degrees founder Andrew Weinreich, sometimes referred to as the father of social networking, created his platform to help people connect with people they didn't know (yet).

What was the first form of social media? ›

Bulletin Board System (BBS) emerges as one of the earliest known forms of social media, and remains popular and under development until the late 1990s. FidoNet forms as BBSs start to exchange email in North America and later internationally.

Videos

1. THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA - Steven Pinker | London Real
(London Real)
2. The Rise of Social Media | Big Think
(Big Think)
3. The Rise of Social Media
(Data That Matters)
4. THE HISTORY OF SOCIAL MEDIA
(Charlotte N)
5. 5 Crazy Ways Social Media Is Changing Your Brain Right Now
(AsapSCIENCE)
6. Under The Influence: Rise of Social Media Influencers | Vishakha Holsambre | TEDxGeorgiaTechSalon
(TEDx Talks)

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