Tech & Kids

The future of social media

Experts share insight into how future social media might look and how it could impact young people.

What is social media’s history?

According to HootSuite, social media got its start in 1997, developing over the years with sites like MySpace, Nexopia and The Facebook. Some of the most popular platforms today got their starts in the early to mid-2000s. These include LinkedIn, Facebook and Reddit, though they look a lot different now.

“Social media has come a long way since the early 2000s, when platforms like Friendster and MySpace were all the rage,” says Yubo co-founder and CEO Sacha Lazimi. “Facebook later kicked things into high gear, and the boom of mobile apps made social media ubiquitous. Today, more than 1 billion people around the world use some form of social media every day.”

By 2015, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms joined the mix, giving users a range of ways to connect with others.

Then, in 2017, TikTok joined the scene. Its short-form videos began a transformation in social media from simply socialisation to entertainment. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube all now feature options for similar short-form videos as well.

Popular social media platforms

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How many children use TikTok?

According to 2022 data from our tracker survey, 50% of children aged 9-16 use TikTok including a significant number of under-13s.

Why is TikTok popular?

TikTok features short-form videos that often feature fun trends or dances that engage users. Children enjoy the quick content and ability to create their own content.

While many consider TikTok a social media platform, it’s more similar to a video-sharing platform like YouTube with elements of social media.

TikTok might be an indication of where social media could develop in the coming years.


How many children use Instagram?

According to 2022 data from our tracker survey, 35% of children aged 9-16 use Instagram including a significant number of under-13s.

Why is Instagram popular?

Instagram is a social media platform that first prioritised images. Unlike other platforms that focussed a lot more on written content, Instagram gave users an option to showcase images quickly and easily.

Since its launch, Instagram has kept on top of trends, adding video and e-commerce options to keep growing its user-base.


How many children use Snapchat?

According to 2022 data from our tracker survey, 37% of children aged 9-16 use Snapchat including a significant number of under-13s.

Why is Snapchat popular?

When Snapchat joined the social media scene, people were drawn-in by its disappearing message feature. Its short-form messages allowed users to share moments from their day knowing they would soon disappear. For some, this might feel like a more secure form of social media that doesn’t leave a digital footprint.

What does the future of social media look like?

Media was once anything but social, says family tech expert, Andy Robertson. “There was a strong divide between the expertise of journalists and the contributions of the public,” he says. “We’ve come a long way from the letters page so that now media content often includes (and is sometimes entirely based on) public contributions.”

Robertson says that had led to media that includes social commentary as well as media that generates social interactions such as on YouTube. “In some ways, all of the media we consume has become social.”

As social media develops and platforms test out new things, future social media could feature many things. Here are a few ways it could evolve:

Enhanced safety

As online safety expert John Carr writes below, the Online Safety Bill means social platforms will need to take greater measures to keep under-18s safe on their platforms.

For instance, if a platform requires users to be 13 or older, they must also have age verification measures to ensure users follow this rule. As such, more social media platforms are likely to have processes to verify age. This could look similar to the process already available on Yubo, which you can explore here.

From socialising to entertaining

Apps like TikTok have shown a greater interest in entertainment. While networks that promote community and socialising will continue to exist, more users might focus on the content that leads to socialising. Videos create discussion and encourage collaboration. With more platforms featuring short-form videos, this trend could continue with future social media platforms.

Buying and selling

Some social media platforms already offer creators ways to monetise content. Places like Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping encourage users to buy and sell within the social platforms as well. As more young people take to digital to make money — through creating and selling virtual items, use clothes, content and more — e-commerce could become a integral part of future social media.

Subscription models

Websites like Patreon and YouTube use subscription models to give creators other ways to make money. This also gives subscribers access to exclusive content. Instagram Subscriptions is one form of social media subscription model being tested in some markets. With X (formerly Twitter) introducing similar models, the future of social media could include investments for particular perks.

What is social gaming?

There are various “apps, tools and platforms built on purely social interactions” that are now an everyday part of life, says Andy Robertson. They are often how people, especially young people, find out about the world and keep in touch with others.

However, “one media that often gets overlooked is video games,” he says. “These are just as socially driven spaces as social networks themselves. In fact, most children will first interact with someone they don’t know online in a game like Roblox rather than in a social media app.”

Social gaming networks

Andy says, “there are game-specific social networks designed to help people find others to play and talk with about the games they love. Discord is an important example here.” It offers community and ways for children to learn more about their favourite games. However, a lot of the communication is also private or one-to-one.

“It’s important for parents to understand that the space is not usually designed with children in mind.” As a result, Andy cautions, places like Discord don’t come with the same parental controls or family settings found in video games consoles.

How is social media regulated?

Online safety expert, John Carr, says, “the social media landscape for children in the UK is about to change dramatically. It’s also going to change dramatically for adults but that’s another story. However, in both cases the reason is the same: The Online Safety Bill is now law.”

The power to enforce these new laws fall to Ofcom, he says. “Failure to comply could result in fines of up to £18 million or 10% of global revenues. In some instances, senior executive might even go to prison.”

How does the Online Safety Act impact social media?

John Carr says there are several new laws “which address, for example, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, bullying, deepfakes and anonymity.” However, for social media specifically, John outlines three key features of the Online Safet Act (formerly the Online Safety Bill) which impact social media:

Social media services must carry out risk assessments

The Online Safety Bill requires greater safety measures

“Every social media service will have to carry out a risk assessment in respect of any service they supply in the UK,” says John Carr. “If they identify any risks to children, they must put in place tools and systems to eliminate or mitigate those risks. They must also explain what they do in clear, accessible language.”

Services must have clear systems in place to regulate access

Social media platforms must enforce rules

Social media services have their own Terms and Conditions that outline who can join the platform. This guidance will often include age requirements and content boundaries. Most social media platforms, for instance, require its users to be 13 or older.

John says the Online Safety Bill makes it so that social media services with any rules “about who can become a member or user, or what they are not allowed to do when using the service” must also clarify what they do to enforce those rules.

“Age assurance systems are going to become much more common,” he says. “The hope is that an element of interoperability will emerge, so people are not having to go through an age assurance process every time they log into or join a new service.”

App stores must align with age restrictions

App stores must follow restrictions

In some cases, apps or laws set certain age restrictions that are then different in app stores. Take WhatsApp for example. By UK law, users must be 16 or older to use the platform. However, on Google Play, it’s rated E for Everyone while the Apple App Store rates it 12+.

John Carr says, “app stores are going to have to up their game. It’s mad that an app or the law can say a particular app should only be used by people aged 13 or above, or even 18 and above, and app stores then say it is suitable for children a lot younger than that.”

What are social media companies doing?

CEO of Yubo, Sacha Lazimi, shared his thoughts on how social media companies are prioritising safety:

“Trust and safety teams at social media companies have grown significantly over the years, and methods and technologies for driving safety are more sophisticated each day. There is always room for improvement by the industry because the main pillars of online safety – age verification measures, content moderation, privacy and transparency (to name a few) – are broad and complex.

“To prioritise safety, major social media companies are constantly evolving, working closely with regulators and stakeholders to identify better solutions for risk-mitigation. The key is to keep adapting to new challenges – a commitment that we hope has ongoing support from concerned parents and caretakers who share our vision for making the internet safer for all people.”

What are the mental health impacts of social media?

“For kids and young people, social media has been an awesome way to stay connected with friends, share cool stuff and learn new things,” says Sacha Lazimi. “But on the flip side, cyberbullying and harmful side effects of excessive screen time have cropped up. The future of social media is hard to predict, but one thing is certain: social media is here to stay, in some form or another, for the long run.”

Research shows that children experience a range of benefits and potential harms from social media. Many young people use social media to stay in contact with friends or to wind down after school. As such, settings boundaries depends on children’s individual needs.

Two ways social media might impact children’s mental health is with FOMO and impacts on self-image.

Late nights and FOMO

Research shows more negative impacts

41% of children aged 9-16 report feeling like they spend too much time online. Additionally, only 30% say they know how to set their own time limits on apps or devices they use.

In our Digital Wellbeing research, 45% of girls aged 9-10 also reported staying up late on their devices. Part of the reason for late nights is possibly linked to feelings of FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out). This group said that missing out on things happening on social media among their friends causes them to feel upset.

These numbers are higher compared to previous years. This means young people feel more negative impacts from digital use.

See advice on helping young people manage their mental health on social media.

Self-image and identity

Social media can impact wellbeing and identity

Research from Ofcom shows that 63% of 8-11-year-olds use social media apps or sites. However, 13 is the age minimum for most of those platforms.

This early access to social media could negatively impact young people’s self-image and sense of wellbeing. As such, they might present themselves online in a way they think others will like.

It’s important to limit access to platforms that have age requirements in place. These restrictions help support children’s wellbeing and development. Additionally, there are alternatives for under-13s that can help young people develop a positive relationship with social media.

Learn more about online identity.

Learn about social media safety.

4 tips to keep kids safe on future social media

As social media continues to develop, it’s hard to know what comes next. However, there are things you can do now and in the future to prepare young people.

Explore 4 tips to social media safety below.

Review safety and security settings

Set parental controls and safety settings

More social media platforms now offer parents greater ways to manage their child’s online safety. Social media’s future will likely see even more features that prioritise safety of under-18s.

Parental controls and other safety features can support conversations around online safety. They work like a safety net to protect young users in the moment.

Explore some social media safety features that already exist:

  • Instagram: Supervised accounts
  • Snapchat: Family Centre
  • TikTok: Family Pairing and Restricted Mode
  • Yubo: Age verification requirements

Talk regularly about online safety

Communication is key to safety on social media

Sacha Lazimi says “communication is key” when it comes to helping “prepare young people for this ever-evolving digital landscape.”

“Just as kids are warned to not talk to strangers in public or put their hand over a hot stove, they should also learn about changing their settings to prevent their personal information and about the importance of speaking up if they come across something online that makes them scared or concerned.”

Explore conversation starters to start talking with your child about their digital life.

Engage in social spaces together

Show children how to socialise safely

Andy Robertson encourages parents to engage in social spaces with their child. This will help them “work out where the healthy boundaries are.”

“Parents can play a role in helping children identify what is accurate reporting and what is just opinion. While the concept of fake news can be a bit misleading, having the skill to differentiate between facts and opinion is a useful tool for the future.”

Help 9-11-year-olds under stand the difference between belief, fact and opinion with Digital Matters.

Promote critical thinking and empathy

Give kids the skills they need to thrive online

“Promoting critical thinking and empathy is crucial to nurturing responsible, sustainable social media habits among young people,” says Yubo CEO, Sacha Lazimi.

From fact-checking information they come across to knowing how to interact in positive ways with others, developing these skills will help young people thrive as social media evolves.

Learn more with our online critical thinking guide.

Meet the experts

John Carr

John Carr is Secretary of the UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety and a member of the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety.

He is also a Senior Expert Adviser to the United Nations (International Telecommunication Union). In June 2012, John was appointed a Senior Visiting Fellow at the LSE.

Headshot of Sacha Lazimi, CEO and co-founder of social networking app, Yubo.
Sacha Lazimi

Sacha is the co-founder and CEO of Yubo, a live social discovery app for Gen Z launched in 2015. As CEO, Sacha has played a pivotal role in expanding the Paris-based social app’s global footprint to more than 140 countries and driving Yubo’s online safety innovation to serve over 80 million young users.

Prior to launching Yubo, Sacha co-founded social apps Twelve and Saloon, which serve as the foundation for Yubo’s live social discovery model. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Université Paris Dauphine and studied entrepreneurship and computer science at CentraleSupélec.

Learn more about Yubo’s safety measures.

See how Yubo supports Internet Matters.

Headshot of games expert Andy Robertson.
Andy Robertson

Andy Robertson has three children and has written about technology for families for 15 years. He is a freelance family technology expert for the BBC and wrote the Taming Gaming book for parents alongside the Family Gaming Database.

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