Here is a question that is probably best posed to a teenager: How many likes does an Instagram photo need to get before it’s safe from deletion?
There are plenty of adults who use the social photo-sharing platform, but deleting photos that aren’t well-liked enough is a distinct behavior among teens who use the site, according to researchers at Penn State University.
“Teens want to be very popular so they’re very conscious of the likes they’re getting,” says Dongwon Lee, an associate professor in the school’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. He and his colleagues have published several papers about how social media behaviors vary by age, and his research focuses more broadly on like-mediated interactions in social environments.
On Instagram, for instance, teens interact more with photos than adults do—they comment more frequently, and like more photos—but, unexpectedly, they seem to publish less frequently themselves. (There may be a simple explanation, though: It’s possible teens only appear to publish less frequently than adults because teens are more likely to delete photos they perceive as under-liked, and to return to their own feeds and prune them over time.)
Adults also post more diverse topics, which may be a reflection of disposable income that allows for vacation or travel, Lee suggests. Teens mostly post photos that reflect their “mood or personal well being,” he says. Instagram’s core users, overall, skew relatively young. Some 90 percent of them are under age 35, according to Business Insider. I should note that the grand total of two teens I asked, via colleagues who are their siblings, about the teen rules of Instagram had little to say on the question of deletions. Maybe because, as one 14-year-old explained, Instagram is basically over and everyone is Snapchatting instead.