Young people still love Twitter — as screenshots on Instagram

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As social media platforms grow more popular, younger audiences tend to flee in search of newer alternatives. This generation is no different. Pew Research Center recently reported that fewer teenagers than ever are using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. But that doesn’t mean that younger users are finished with the content from those sites altogether. Instead, Instagram — still hugely popular as a place to post glossy, aspirational images of your vacation, your coffee, or gratuitous selfies — has grown into a home away from home to consume screenshots of the best content from those services.

“Facebook is dead. Tumblr is for people stuck in 2011 and Warped Tour (sorry). Snapchat is irrelevant to the point that I don’t even know why I’m mentioning it,” Cori Amato Hartwig, a New York-based 22-year-old who runs an account called @manicpixiememequeen, tells The Verge. “Instagram and Twitter are the only social media platforms that matter, especially to millennials.” For Hartwig, Instagram’s image-first identity is suited to meme culture, which she says thrives and connects more easily. “Memes lend themselves to be shared as a full image, with the text of the meme actually attached to the image itself,” she says.

Some of these Instagram meme accounts have followers in the millions, and many aren’t just aggregating content; they’re creating their own on Twitter or Tumblr, and then posting screenshots to Instagram. For some meme creators, Twitter and Tumblr are a canvas, while Instagram is the wall where they display their work. Part of the reason is that for meme creators looking to build an audience, Twitter just doesn’t cut it.

“Pardon my language, but Twitter is shit when it comes to meme,” says Anuj, creator of @abuttwithaview, an Instagram account focused on memes related to gay culture. Anuj, a 30-year-old based in India, started the account two years ago after finding inspiration in other meme accounts on the platform. And like many of them, his content is typically screenshots of text or composite text-and-image posts from Twitter and Tumblr. “The formatting in Twitter is such that if you put a picture, it gets cropped and the whole meme is not visible on the wall, unless you click on the tweet,” he explains.

Success on one platform also doesn’t necessarily cross over onto others. On Instagram, @manicpixiememequeen has more than 48K followers; on Twitter, it has just over 1K. The same goes for accounts like @heyqueentv (125K on Instagram vs. 27K on Twitter, @grapejuiceboys (835K Instagram followers, about 750 on Twitter), and so on.

“You’d think, ‘I have a viral account on Instagram. Almost 50,000 people pay attention to me. Surely they care about what I’m tweeting?’” says Hartwig. “But people absolutely do not give a single shit about what you’re tweeting,” she says. “When I post on Instagram, I can expect about 2,000 likes a post. With Twitter, I expect about two retweets and 20 to 30 likes.” She says Twitter rewards trends and current social relevancy, while Instagram offers more topical flexibility.

In theory, Twitter should make sharing content easy; retweets are a vital part of its model, and you can share anything with one click. Going viral on Twitter is also a double-edged sword: even if you pop off a good joke, its success is unlikely to reward you with substantial new followers, and most meme creators are looking to build a fan base, not just go viral for 15 minutes. Having viral tweets can often make the platform virtually unusable, not only because of spam, but due to the personal harassment and dogpiling that often accompanies it.

The way users relate to collections of memes on Instagram is also different, says 23-year-old Gabriella, the woman behind @sighswoon. “People are way more willing to communicate with an idea present in a meme than they are with an idea from a specific person/face,” she says. “It feels like a separate force, and an idea gets to float with no bias. Kinda mystical.”

If there’s one advantage to Twitter, it’s that it allows nudity — a policy far more lax than that of Instagram, which won’t even tolerate certain kinds of nipples. But Twitter’s discovery mechanisms also make it harder to encounter new content. What users see is spoon-fed directly to their timeline via a curated list of followers, and searching by hashtag means sorting through hundreds or thousands of text tweets. Even trending topics are relegated to an easily overlooked sidebar.

Instagram’s Discovery tab also outpaces its Twitter counterpart when it comes to attracting new followers. It takes only a few seconds to flick through an entire page of images, and just a few more to refresh for new ones. Because the exploration tab on Instagram is so readily accessible, users can more easily browse similar content. For meme creators, this ramps up their potential to draw in bored browsers who become devoted followers.

“If you are already not famous/twitter celeb [sic], then I found that Instagram gets you more engagement than Twitter,” says Anuj. He points to the system’s hashtags, which creators can pile on easily without detracting from the post itself. “But on Twitter nobody uses hashtags, using multiple hashtags on Twitter is so 2011,” he says. “For [example], I can use #meme #gaymeme #instameme #funny #lol like this on Instagram as much as I like. But not Twitter. 1) it will make you uncool. 2) all the hashtags will appear with your meme’s text and it looks bad.”

When it comes to social media, aesthetic and accessibility is everything. While Twitter is constantly redesigning its platform, much to the predictable outrage of its user base, Instagram has remained fairly straightforward, making it an ideal staging ground for all kinds of meme creativity. After finding her brief Twitter experience “cluttered and anxious,” Gabriella sees meme accounts as mostly the purview of creative and alternative types who, like her, might find Instagram more pleasing anyway.

“Instagram feels a little more artistic, like the creative merit of a meme is more celebrated on the Instagram platform over Twitter or Facebook, which I believe flourish in other ways,” she says. “Twitter seems more hype-based and news-based, all about sharing opinions and standing by them. Instagram is more playful and about aesthetics and images and inspiration.”

Entertainment

A new Matrix Resurrections trailer is all about change

Entertainment

Netflix’s genre slate for 2022 includes The Sandman and The Witcher: Blood Origin

Entertainment

Tom Holland will return for another trilogy of MCU Spider-Man movies

View all stories in Film

Comments

"PEOPLE ABSOLUTELY DO NOT GIVE A SINGLE SHIT ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE TWEETING."

Looking at my Follower-count – this is actually true.

So…. if I like your instagram post… I care? Good to know, never saw it that way. If I reply I care… otherwise… nah…

Do you remember the emrata controversy on The Verge? Classic

Twitter is a GD mess.

I get a lot of these meme instagram accounts on my discovery feed… I always thought they felt a bit weird on instagram though, as it’s main strength was the personal touch sharing pictures creates. Meme accounts really have no personal input, its just a funny joke or visual gag or whatever, cute but why would I then follow that person? Networking with interesting strangers for me was always Twitter’s remit. Guess I’m in the minority though.

Should we really be paying attention to anyone who unironically says that "Facebook is dead?" I mean, I know she’s in a tiny world bubble of her own and may even believe the things she says, but they’re simply not applicable to…well, almost anyone else.

For her generation, it is.

It’s an odd one as she considered a millennial, but older millennials(say 26 and up) still use facebook a lot(mostly to share news stories, pet pictures, and life updates(something not possible on Instagram) in my experience.

It’s almost as if a 20-year spread of people don’t share the same habits.

Even a 10-year spread, apparently. A 22-year old and a 32-year old today are seemingly as different as any two demographics…

It’s definitely not dead, people over 45 love it! It’s just not cool or fun.

Not sure why these people are being given a platform. Most of these accounts shamelessly steal content from all across the Internet. Posting screenshots of someone else’s tweets is not making memes. These people haven’t got a creative or funny bone in their body. All they do is thrive off of someone else’s work. Half the screenshots on Instagram are from Tumblr and these people have the audacity to say that people using Tumblr are from 2011. Much like Instagram itself, its users know only how to steal other people’s work.

I very much agree with you.

My Twitter account is basically a barren landscape in terms of "engagement" but I still love it soooo much. They’re both full of attention whores but at least on Twitter I don’t need to see them per se, Twitter is basically just for news and bants and it serves me incredibly well in that regard Shame that most of my friends don’t really do Twitter but I’m definitely closer with the ones that do, just something I’ve noticed

Twitter & Insta are definitely my most used social media apps… but I prefer Twitter. Maybe it’s because I don’t use Facebook that it does become my place for personal opinions and rants etc. as well as a news feed, whereas you can’t really do that on Insta.

YOUNG PEOPLE STILL LOVE TWITTER — AS SCREENSHOTS ON INSTAGRAM
Content from Twitter or Tumblr finds new, remixed life on Instagram

But where are these people finding the screenshots? They aren’t taking them themselves, they find them on reddit, tumblr, FB, messages, and even twitter, then share them on IG.

Reddit is stacked full of them in various subreddits.

Probably tumblr, as I’ve seen a lot of twitter screenshots on there. On the other hand on Facebook I see a good amount of tumblr stuff, some even from people I am tumblr friends with. Not sure about reddit as I use that mostly for tech and the homepage.

How is Twitter useless if all the content is being made there and screenshotted/shared on IG?

You can’t say this:

"Pardon my language, but Twitter is shit when it comes to meme,"

Then use that content as a meme on Instagram and all of a sudden say it’s now relevant. This doesn’t compute.

Looked @her Instagram Account. Good God, the "meme" factor points to a very dellusinal POV. Hope she gets well soon, or grows up fast for that matter.

Wow. Damn.

You should stop talking about the "love" for these platforms. Because that’s all they are, platforms, or tools. People don’t really care if FB or Twitter or IG dies, if that happens they’ll just go elsewhere and quickly forget about it.

I am pretty sure there will be a few people who would care if IG, and/or FB went away. Personally, I would be a little sad if tumblr went away, because that where I upload my nature photography(supports raw, and has no real MP limit or how much one can upload).

I have less than 300 followers on Twitter and I can expect around the same amount of engagement as @manicpixiewhatever says she is getting with 48K followers. My twitter posts are personal, intimate, and me at my most "real".

Perhaps the story here is that people on Twitter are looking for actual substance and not just memes.

Twitter seems like it’s engineered to either enrage you with the moronic ideas of your fellow humans or, if rigorously curate and silo yourself, give you a false sense that everybody agrees with you.

To Twitter’s credit though, I’d rather be spammed with pseudo-journalism and politics than with the dumb, vapid memes these people are peddling on Instagram. That’s probably why I had a Twitter account for three weeks and I’ve never felt the slightest stirring to make an IG account.

Young people’s habits ≠ a 30 year old man from a third world country who spams stolen memes to make a few bucks

If we listened to him, we could also find out young people don’t drive cars, pardon my language but car is shit, young people ride rusty mopeds

View All Comments
Back to top ↑