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The Pew Research Center last week released the results of a 2012 social media usage survey that broke down social media users by unique demographic characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, and educational attainment. Interestingly, among Internet users, Latinos were found more likely to use social networking sites than their white and black counterparts. While 72% of Latino Internet users said they use social media, only 65% of whites and 68% of blacks reported using such sites. Among specific social media sites, 19% of Latinos online use Twitter, compared to 15% for whites and 26% for blacks. On Instagram, Latinos similarly outnumbered whites, 18% to 11%. Latinos were the group most likely to be found on Pinterest at 8%. (It is important to bear in mind that these percentages are amongst Internet users and not amongst the ethnic groups as a whole.)
Frankly, relatively high social media use within the Latino community shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The same Pew report confirms what most would expect: younger Internet users are far more likely to utilize social sites. A whopping 83% of users between 18 and 29 years old reported using social media—a proportion that declines to 77% for those between 30 and 49 years old and 52% among users between 50 and 64. These numbers are important because Latinos are statistically the youngest ethnic group in the United States: the median age of Latino-Americans today is 27, compared to 33 for blacks, 36 for Asians, and 42 for whites.
The correlation is also evident within household income. Internet users with a household income less than $30,000 are the most likely to use social media at 72%. Meanwhile, the median Latino household income of $39,000 is well below the national median of $50,000.
While it can be tempting to read too much into Latinos’ relatively high use of social media, a demographic breakdown of our community demonstrates that this phenomenon probably speaks more to our makeup as a people rather than to any cultural embrace of the online medium.
That said, this explanation does not take away from the growing significance that social media continues to play within the Latino community. As more and more Latino youngsters enter the social media world, it will only encourage older generations to join in to keep tabs on their children and reconnect with friends and family separated by great distances. Speaking from personal experience, my parents, aunts and uncles first joined Facebook after they saw they could enjoy photos posted by their children. Today, the infamous Lomeli social media network has me connected with family in Mexico who I get to physically see about once per decade.
Social media could certainly serve as an invaluable resource for the Latino community, and it’s clear to me that we are barely scraping the surface of opportunities. It should go without saying, however, that there are also obvious dangers in disclosing personal information online. As social media use continues to grow within our community, it is vital that we stay informed of potential security vulnerabilities and ensure our children understand how to stay safe online. NHMC is currently working to identify many of these privacy issues and develop recommendations to help you have a safe, enjoyable online experience. With the right care, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Latinos use social media in even higher numbers in any future studies.
Andrew Lomeli is a Policy Fellow for NHMC and is currently a graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley.