8 facts about Americans and Instagram

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An iPhone with the Instagram photo-sharing app open. (Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Instagram has grown in popularity since its launch 10 years ago this month. The photo and video sharing platform is often used to post mundane images of everyday life, but in recent years it has also become a marketplace for online influencers, political and election news and disinformation campaigns. The site is especially popular among young adults and teens, though it has been approached tentatively by some Americans as a venue for news and political information-sharing.

Over the years, Pew Research Center has studied how American adults – as well as teens and children – engage with the platform. Here are eight key takeaways from our research.

As of 2019, Instagram had gained users among U.S. adults but YouTube, Facebook remained most widely used platforms

Roughly four-in-ten Americans (37%) say they have ever used Instagram online or on their cellphone, according to a survey conducted in January and February of 2019. The share of U.S. adults who say they have ever used the site has grown from 9% in 2012, when the Center first began asking about the platform. At the time of the survey, though Instagram had grown to be one of the more popular online platforms in the United States, most Americans still did not use it, unlike the two most popular social media platforms – YouTube and Facebook – which were used by majorities of U.S. adults (73% and 69%, respectively).

Young adults, women and Hispanic Americans are among the most likely groups to say they use Instagram. Americans ages 18 to 24 (75%) are the most likely to say they ever use Instagram. This compares with smaller shares of those in older groups who say the same, with 57% of adults ages 25 to 29, 47% of those 30 to 49, 23% of those ages 50 to 64 and just 8% of those 65 and older saying they use the platform, according to 2019 Center data. Women are also more likely than men to say they use the site (43% vs. 31%). In addition, Hispanic adults (51%) are more likely to say they use Instagram when compared with Black (40%) or White (33%) Americans.

A majority of adult Instagram users in the U.S. say they use the site daily. About six-in-ten U.S. adults who use Instagram (63%) say they do so every day, while smaller shares say they use the platform weekly (21%) or less often (16%). By comparison, 74% of Facebook users say they use the platform daily and 17% say they use it weekly, according to the 2019 survey findings.

In 2018, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat were the most popular online platforms among teens

Roughly seven-in-ten U.S. teens (72%) say they use the site. Surpassed only by YouTube, Instagram ranks as the second most popular platform among Americans in this age group, according to a survey conducted in March and April of 2018. Separately, 15% of teens say Instagram is the platform they use “most often.” That’s lower than the shares who say the same about Snapchat (35%) and YouTube (32%).

Children ages 11 and younger also engage with Instagram, though not as much as with other sites. Despite most social media sites having age guidelines in place, which usually restrict children younger than 13 from joining, some 5% of parents of a child age 11 or younger say that, as far as they know, their child uses Instagram, according to a 2020 survey. When considering only children ages 9 to 11, however, this share increases to 11%. Platforms like TikTok and Snapchat are more popular than Instagram among children 11 and younger, according to their parents.  

Instagram is not a top social media site for getting news. Around one-in-seven U.S. adults (14%) say they ever get news on the platform, according to a 2019 survey. That’s similar to the share who ever get news on Twitter (17%), but far smaller than the shares who ever get news on Facebook (52%) or YouTube (28%).

There are considerable demographic differences in who gets news from Instagram. Around six-in-ten of the site’s news users (62%) are women while 38% are men, according to the same 2019 survey. Around eight-in-ten of the site’s news users are under the age of 50, while a considerably smaller share is older.

Few trust social media as a place to get political and election news

Few Americans trust Instagram as a place to get political and election news. Just 6% of U.S. adults say they trust Instagram as a place to get political and election news, with a much larger share (42%) saying they distrust it for such information, according to a fall 2019 survey. Some 37% of U.S. adults say they neither trust nor distrust the site for this type of news.

Americans have more distrust than trust in all the social media platforms asked about in the survey. For example, 17% of Americans say they trust YouTube as a place for political and election news, while 36% say they distrust the site. And while 15% of U.S. adults say they trust Facebook for this type of information, a much larger share (59%) say they distrust this platform as a place to get political and election news.

About three-in-ten Americans know that Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook. In a 2019 survey, Americans were asked questions about a range of digital topics, including some about the business of social media. Some 29% of Americans correctly named WhatsApp and Instagram as companies owned by Facebook, while 22% answered the question incorrectly. The largest share (49%) said they weren’t sure about the answer to this question.

Brooke Auxier  is a former research associate focusing on internet and technology at Pew Research Center.

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