When we talk about the harms of social media, we tend to focus on psychological problems related to body image or money. But there is also a hidden environmental cost to our daily scrolling habits.
It takes a huge amount of energy to store all those cat videos and photos of your mates’ latest culinary experiment. The result is a surprisingly large volume of CO2 emissions – most of which users are unaware of.
But not every platform emits equally. BanklessTimes.com has gathered data on several top social media brands to discover how the environmental impact compares between platforms.
- One minute on TikTok produces 2.63g CO2e. That’s more than twice as much as Instagram (1.05g); three times more than Facebook (0.79g); and five times more than Youtube (0.46g).
- Facebook boasts the most daily active users – 1.96 billion. The average user spends 30.1 minutes on the platform each day, producing a total of 46,797 tonnes CO2e per day.
- TikTok boasts less than half as many users. But their users spend 50% longer on the platform each day – and emit three times more for every minute they use it. As a result, a conservative estimate finds that the platform produces 40,151 tonnes CO2e per day.
- Both Facebook and TikTok produce enough CO2e each year to fly the entire population of London to New York and back.
While the popularity of a social media platform matters, there are other factors to consider. Both YouTube and Facebook boast considerably larger user bases than TikTok. But TikTok emits three more CO2e per minute of use than Facebook – and five times more than YouTube.
Equally, users spend 50% more time on both YouTube and TikTok than they do on Facebook. As a result, the companies’ overall carbon emissions are somewhat surprising given their differing scales.
Which social media platform is most environmentally friendly?
Facebook emits relatively little per minute of use – 0.79 grams of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), to be exact. The average user spends 30.1 minutes each day on the platform. But with 1.96 billion Daily Active Users, the platform produces a whopping 46,797 tonnes CO2e per day – and 17,080,905 CO2e each year.
While there is no reliable data on TikTok or Youtube’s Daily Active Users, there is data on their monthly user base. If we take a conservative estimate that roughly a third of these users might use each platform daily, we can produce a reasonable estimate of their overall carbon emissions.
YouTube boasts 2,562,000,000 Mostly Active Users, and an average daily watch time of 45.6 mins. If we once again take a conservative approach and assume a third of Monthly Active Users fit the figures for daily consumption, we find that the platform produces 17,913.5 tonnes of CO2e per day.
TikTok boasts 1 billion Monthly Active Users, with an average daily use of 45.8 minutes – emitting 2.63g CO2e per minute of use. At the conservative end of the spectrum – counting a third of monthly users as daily uses – this would produce 40,151 tonnes CO2e per day.
To put this in perspective, it’s estimated that a seat on a flight from London to New York and back can require up to 1.7 tonnes of CO2. So both Facebook and TikTok emit more CO2e each year than it would take to fly the entire population of London to New York and back.
Jonathan Merry CEO of BanklessTimes.com said, “Most of us don’t think about social media as an environmental issue. But this research demonstrates how impactful it can be – and how our choice of which platforms to use might have a large impact on global emissions.”