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Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

"Why Can’t We Be Friends?" | The Distrust Of Social Media Amongst America's Youth  - 5 7 2021 9 47 26 AM

Fully 78% of 18- to 29-year-olds have little to no trust in Facebook to do the right thing, according to a new poll. Young Americans are also more likely to say that social media’s impact on society has been negative, not positive. (Harvard Institute of Politics)

NH: Three years into the “tech-lash” (see “Tech-Lash Batters Silicon Valley”), surveys like these really drive home how starkly public opinion towards social media companies has changed.

Of the 16 institutions that are included in this poll, Facebook is the one that is least trusted by 18- to 29-year-olds, with 39% saying they “never” trust the site and another 39% saying they only trust it “some of the time.”

Twitter isn’t doing much better. Fully 35% of young adults never trust the site, and 43% say they trust it some of the time. Bottom line: Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon are near the top of youth's never-trust list--right up there with Wall Street, the media, and Congress. Google fares somewhat better: Only 18% never trust the site.

Who do Millennials trust? Earning the highest marks is “[their] college administration,” which is trusted by 58% of this group at least some of the time, and never trusted by only 9%.

Next going down the list are the Supreme Court, their local government, the U.S. military, and the police. Anti-authority young Boomers these are not. 

"Why Can’t We Be Friends?" | The Distrust Of Social Media Amongst America's Youth  - May7 1

This poll has also some interesting findings on partisanship and the political climate. Nearly a third of young adults (31%) said that politics has gotten in the way of a friendship for them.

The most polarizing issue is race relations. Fully 44% of young Americans said that they could not be friends with someone who disagreed with them on race relations. But there are huge differences by party ID: Sixty percent of Biden voters agreed with this, compared to only 22% of Trump voters.

Across most issues, Biden voters are more likely to consider different political stances a deal-breaker, including immigration, supporting Trump, police reform, and climate change. The only issue where the difference between Biden voters and Trump voters is small (less than 5 percentage points) is abortion.

"Why Can’t We Be Friends?" | The Distrust Of Social Media Amongst America's Youth  - Friend 2

"Why Can’t We Be Friends?" | The Distrust Of Social Media Amongst America's Youth  - Friend 3

What’s more, younger Americans are more likely to feel like politics will get in the way of their friendships. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, for instance, 47% say views on race relations would cause a problem.

A smaller share (41%) of 25- to 29-year-olds said the same. This pattern holds for every issue the poll asked about.

Does this youthful stubbornness say anything special about the politics of this generation? Maybe not. In fact, Americans of all ages have lately been feeling unusually stressed about politics--to the point of fearing the consequences of victory for the "other party" and reporting they have few if any friends who are voting for the "other party."

Arguably, this is harder on people when they're breaking long-established friendships than when they're in college and are just making them. As for race, again, that's becoming a flashpoint for every bracket. According to 2020 exit polls, for instance, protests over police violence were an "important" factor for 67% of voters and "the single most important factor" for 19%.

There is, perhaps, another side to these rising adults. Overwhelmingly--and this includes 85% of Biden voters and 73% of Trump voters--they agree that we need more "open-mindedness" in politics.

A decisive majority of nearly 60% agree that "politics has become too partisan," a 10-point increase since 2010. And unlike older Americans, they remain much more hopeful than fearful about America's future. Young nonwhite Americans are the most hopeful of all.

So think about it. Let's say you really do believe that America would be a lot happier place if people could discuss politics with their passions in check.

Well, that's one more good reason to hate on Facebook and Twitter.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.