By Ellyn Briggs
February 1, 2023 at 5:00 am ET
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.
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.
Ellyn Briggs is a data reporter at Morning Consult covering brands and marketing. @ellynbriggs