What is the environmental footprint for social media applications? 2021 Edition

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We updated this study in 2023, the new version is available here :

The use of social networking-type mobile applications is increasing every year. Like the professional use of videoconferencing tools, these uses have put additional pressure on the network and the servers of these solutions.

How do the players take the environmental impact into account in their strategy? What are the impacts of our activities on social networks? What are the most/least impacting solutions for the environment, network congestion and the autonomy of our smartphones?

For this study, we chose to measure the news feed of the 10 most popular social media applications: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, and Youtube. These applications are different in terms of functionality. We have chosen to compare them in terms of carbon impact, consumption of energy and data exchanged.

For each of its applications, measured on an S7 smartphone (Android 8), the scenario for scrolling the news feed was carried out through our Greenspector Test Runner, allowing manual tests to be carried out over 1 minute in one-to-one. Learn more about the methodology and How does Greenspector assess the environmental footprint of digital service use.

Projected ranking in the carbon impact of social network applications newsfeed (g EqCO2)

ApplicationThe carbon impact of newsfeed/min2021 Rank2020 EvolutionWater ResourceLand Use
Youtube0.46 gEqCO2/min1=0.08 Liters0.92 m²
Twitch0.55 gEqCO2/min2+30.09 Liters1.01 m²
Twitter0.60 gEqCO2/min3 +1 0.10 Liters1.14 m²
LinkedIn0.71 gEqCO2/min4-10.10 Liters1.00 m²
Facebook0.79 gEqCO2/min5-30.12 Liters1.38 m²
Snapchat0.87 gEqCO2/min6+10.12 Liters1.29 m²
Instagram1.05 gEqCO2/min7-10.12 Liters1.03 m²
Pinterest1.30 gEqCO2/min8=0.15 Liters1.25 m²
Reddit2.48 gEqCO2/min9=0.23 Liters1.35 m²
TikTok2.63 gEqCO2/min10=0.27 Liters1.88 m²

According to the Global Web Index July 2021, we spend an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on social networks, i.e. +2 minutes compared to 2019. If we project the average carbon impact of the 10 applications measured (1.15 gEqCO2) out of 60 seconds to the average time spent per user, we obtain for one user/day: 165.6 gEqCO2. It is the equivalent of 1.4 km in a light vehicle. It also corresponds to 60 kgEqCO2 per user per year, or the equivalent of 535 km travelled in an average light vehicle in France. It is equivalent to 1% of the carbon impact of a French (7 Tons).

In May 2021, the number of active users of social networks stood at 4.33 billion (55.1% of the world population), or + 35% compared to 2019. 99% access social networks on a mobile device. 80% of the time (2 hours and 24 minutes) on social networks is spent on a mobile device. If we project our carbon/user impact to these data, we obtain 262 million Tons EqCO2 per year for the 4.33 billion mobile users, i.e. the equivalent of 0.61% of the EqCO2 impacts in the world in 2019 and more than half of France’s carbon emissions (56%).

Energy consumption of social media applications newsfeed (mAh)

ApplicationEnergy Consumption of newsfeed/min2021 Rank 2020 Evolution
Youtube8.58 mAh1=
Instagram8.9 mAh2+5
LinkedIn8.92 mAh3-1
Twitch9.05 mAh4-1
Twitter10.28 mAh5+1
Pinterest10.83 mAh6+2
Reddit11.04 mAh7-4
Snapchat11.48 mAh8+2
Facebook12.36 mAh9-5
TikTok15.81 mAh10-1

When it comes to energy consumption, the news feeds for Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok apps are the worst performers. Good students on the energy side are Youtube, Instagram and LinkedIn. The TikTok news feed here consumes 1.8 times more power than Youtube‘s.

The average established for energy consumption is 10.73 mAh or + 1.2% compared to our 2020 ranking.

Data exchanged from social network applications newsfeed (MB)

ApplicationExchanged Data on newsfeed/min2021 Rank2020 Evolution
Youtube3.09 MB1=
Twitter6.28 MB2+2
Twitch6.87 MB3+2
Facebook11.15 MB4-2
LinkedIn15.34 MB5-2
Snapchat17.26 MB6+1
Instagram32.46 MB7-1
Pinterest40.65 MB8=
TikTok96.23 MB9+1
Reddit100 MB10-1

In terms of the exchanged data, the bad guys are the news feeds of the Reddit, TikTok and Pinterest apps. The good students in terms of data exchanged are Youtube, Twitter and Twitch. Reddit consumes 32 times more data than the Youtube app.

The average established for the data exchanged is 32.93 MB for this use, or 71% more compared to the 2020 edition. Only 3 applications are above this threshold. Watch out for your data plans! Projection in 1 month, you will have consumed 142 Go!

Taking into account the average time spent on the social networks according to the Visionary Marketing blog: if you only use Tik Tok (up to 52 minutes per projected day), you will consume nearly 149 GB per month. While Instagram (up to 53 minutes per day) will make you consume 51 GB! Are you more into Facebook? It will make you consume nearly 19 GB (up to 58 minutes per day) per month.

Pour chacune de ses applications, mesurées sur un smartphone S7 (Android 8), le scénario suivant a été réalisé au travers de notre Greenspector Test Runner, permettant la réalisation de tests manuels sur une durée de 1 minute en one-to-one.

  • Launch the application (wait 20 seconds)
  • Scroll through the news feed or the “Discover” tab of the applications
ApplicationVersionDownloadsGoogle Playstore Grade
YouTube16.40.3510 000 000 000+4,3
LinkedIn4.1.627.1500 000 000+4,3
Reddit2021.41.050 000 000+4,3
Facebook340. 000 000 000+2,6
Twitch11.7.0100 000 000+4,5
Twitter9.16.11 000 000 000+3,5
Instagram210. 000 000 000+3,8
Pinterest9.35.0500 000 000+4,6
TikTok21.6.51 000 000 000+4,4
Snapchat11.50.0.291 000 000 000+4,2

Each measurement is the average of 3 homogeneous measurements (with a low standard deviation). The measured consumption on the smartphone according to a wifi type network can be different on a laptop PC with a wired network. For each of the iterations, the cache is first emptied.

Discover how does Greenspector assess the environmental footprint of digital service use .