Most Americans Don’t Like Where Social Media Platforms Are Headed but Still Aren’t Interested in the Alternatives

Despite ongoing controversy at many major platforms, new Morning Consult data reveals that usage of startup platforms is low
February 01, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

The major social media platforms have never been more pervasive. Nor have they ever been more under fire, as each deals with a seemingly never-ending cascade of government scrutiny and public relations debacles (most self-inflicted).

According to a new Morning Consult survey, the majority of U.S. adults (53%) said they believe the changes happening at social media platforms are on the wrong track, while 47% said those platforms are going in the right direction. 

U.S. Congress and more than half of the country’s state governments have taken action to ban the use of ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok on government-issued devices in recent months, citing concerns over the Chinese-owned app’s data security practices. Meanwhile, just a few days into 2023, Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against five major social media companies, including Snap Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Instagram, claiming that harmful content hosted on these platforms has led to a “youth mental health crisis.” 

The scrutiny is perhaps most intense at Twitter Inc., which has undergone sweeping changes since billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover in October, including the elimination of content moderation teams and the launch of a subscription offering that was initially abused by some users to impersonate companies and celebrities.

Those decisions led hundreds of advertisers to flee the platform resulting in year-over-year ad revenue declines of nearly 40%.

And yet, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they do not have accounts on any of the 10 startup social media platforms tested in the survey, including the Twitter rivals Post and Mastodon, suggesting that the recent flood of controversy at major platforms has not led users to switch their allegiances.

Most Americans Pessimistic About Changes at Social Platforms

Respondents were asked whether they think changes on social media platforms, such as new security measures and additional features, are going in the right direction or are on the wrong track
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Survey conducted between Jan. 20-22, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Gen Z adults, Democrats have more positive outlooks on social media

  • In contrast to the general population, a majority of both Gen Z adults (62%) and Democrats (57%) said that updates to social media platforms are heading “in the right direction.” 
  • Baby boomers and Republicans, meanwhile, were least likely to report approval of social media’s general direction, further highlighting the increasingly polarizing nature of the technology area. 
  • When asked about potential procedural improvements that social media platforms could make, U.S. adults identified data privacy (86%), protections for child users (83%) and removal of bots (83%) as topics that should be the highest priority. Among potential user experience improvements, respondents said navigation ease (70%) and recommended content relevancy (63%) were the most important.

Alternative Social Media Platforms Have Yet to Seriously Threaten Major Platforms

The shares of respondents who said they currently have an account on each of the following platforms:
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Survey conducted between Jan. 20-22, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

How alternative and startup platforms stack up against established players  

  • Telegram stands out as the nonmajor platform on which the most adults (12%) reported having an account. Meanwhile, 4% or less said they have an account on each of the remaining nine tested platforms. 
  • Gen Z adults were more likely than adults overall to have an account on every tested startup platform. Previous Morning Consult research found Gen Zers to be the most prolific users of social media.
  • Mastodon, Post News and Hive Social, three of the most frequently touted Twitter alternatives, fell in the middle of the tested set. Self-identified Twitter users did not report having accounts on these platforms at significantly higher rates than did the general population. Five percent of Twitter users said they also have a Mastodon account.
  • On average, the share of adults who said they have an account on the tested major social media platforms is more than 10 times the share who said the same of the tested startup social media platforms.

Slow and steady wins the race? 

While account adoption remains low among the general public, chief executives of multiple tested startups said their platforms experienced substantial growth over the last few pandemic-impacted years — especially among Gen Z users, a bloc often critical to winning a spot on marketing budgets. 

Still, most major brands have been hesitant to invest in younger social channels to date. Many that paused Twitter ad spending are still employing a wait-and-see approach, or have shifted those funds to other, more established platforms. 

It’s likely too early to know if any of these upstart challengers can become legitimate competitors to the giants. But several startup executives with whom Morning Consult spoke share a unified outlook. The entire social ecosystem is in flux, and any real movement toward newer platforms, they said, is likely to happen at a pace too slow to grab most headlines. 

The Jan. 20-22, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

A headshot photograph of Ellyn Briggs
Ellyn Briggs
Brands Analyst

Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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