TikTok is the most polluting social media

TikTok users each emit 2.63g of CO2 every minute that they use the social media platform, according to a new study.

With social media being used by over 4.76 billion people around the globe, amassing to 59 per cent of the world’s population, it is important that as a society we understand the ramifications of its use. Whilst many consider the implications of social media usage at an individual and societal level, such as its impact on mental health, the wider repercussions are often overlooked. 

One key issue with social media’s mass usage that does not receive enough attention is its environmental impact as a result of carbon emissions. This is particularly important for people to be made aware of due to the growing concerns over carbon dioxide levels, with it reaching a record high level in May as a direct result of human activities.

BanklessTimes research set out to investigate how pollutive each social media platform is.

The data revealed the most polluting social media platform to be TikTok, with each user emitting 2.63g of CO2 every single minute, which amasses to a staggering figure of 30.72 KG of CO2 per year. Facebook, the platform with the highest number of users at 289.5 million of users per year, emits a more moderate amount with each user emitting 0.79g per minute and a total of 9.52 KG per year.

The second most popular platform, Youtube was actually found to emit the least amount of CO2 amongst all eight platforms, with each user emitting 0.46g per minute, adding up to 3.19 KG per year – less than ten times that of TikTok. However, TikTok isn’t the only platform producing high CO2 emissions, Reddit was just behind with each user emitting 2.48g per minute and a total of 21.36 KG per year.

Whilst TikTok only ranks as fourth popular with 100 million users per year, behind Facebook, Youtube and Instagram, TikTok users spend on average 32 minutes on the platform – the second highest behind Facebook. This is worrisome when considering just how damaging each minute spent on TikTok is to the environment and even more so when taking into consideration that the platform’s user base is continuously growing and is set to overtake Facebook within the next four years. 

To put this into perspective, we compared the amount of CO2 produced by each platform’s user in their lifetime, to the amount of miles than could be either driven or flown and emit the same amount of CO2.

For the time each user spends scrolling on TikTok, the same amount of CO2 is produced as a flight from LA to Hong Kong. Similarly Reddit users could fly from the UK all the way to Venezuela and still not quite match the amount of CO2 produced from their use of the platform. Likewise, Instagram users could drive from Moscow to London and still not amass the amount of CO2 they will from sitting in their homes watching stories and liking pictures.

A flight from Manchester to Athens would contribute less CO2 than a users time on Facebook… are the updates from people you knew years ago and no longer care about worth that?

Gen Z has the largest social media carbon footprint

The amount of time individuals chose to spend on each platform greatly influences the overall carbon footprint, which is why we investigated the generation which spends the most amount of time on social media. We discovered that millennials use both Instagram and Facebook the most, averaging at 169 and 109 minutes per day on Instagram and Facebook, respectively. In comparison the most frequent users of TikTok was found to be Gen Z, spending on average 75 minutes per day scrolling through the platform. 

It would be presumptuous to assume that millennials therefore have the highest carbon footprint on social media. In fact, one minute spent by Gen Z on TikTok emits 51g of CO2, in contrast to the 19g/minute emitted by millennials on Instagram – meaning each minute of Gen Z’s TikTok scrolling is two and a half times more harmful than millennials minute on Instagram.

YouTube is setting the precedent for a greener future for social media. With YouTube being the least polluting of the eight popular social media platforms, their green initiatives should be looked to as an example of how others can tackle this issue. As a part of Google, YouTube has committed to a operating with carbon free energy by 2030. In order to do so, they are pursuing new carbon-free energy generation and storage technologies.

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