What are teens doing with YouTube? Practices, uses and metaphors of the most popular audio-visual platform [review]

Reviewed paper


This article is part of the outcomes of the Transmedia Literacy research project on teens and transmedia collaborative practices carried out in eight countries between 2015 and 2018. A multi-method approach was used in the study (questionnaires, workshops, media diaries, interviews, observation of online communities) to explore what teens are doing with media. This article presents a map of the uses and practices teens make of YouTube.

The metaphors of YouTube that emerged when teens put these uses and practices into discourse are also identified. Five YouTube uses were detected: radiophonic, televisual, social, productive and educative.

These uses vary according to the practices performed by teens and how they are related to the logics of the YouTube platform. Moreover, the identified metaphors show the ways teens’ uses are related to their everyday routines and the way they integrate the YouTube platform into various dimensions of their social life, such as their media practices, and the way they acquire knowledge and skills.

KEYWORDS: YouTube, teenagers, uses, practices, metaphors, platforms


Since its creation in 2005, YouTube has been one of the most disruptive platforms of the media ecology. YouTube has become one of the world’s largest platforms for accessing, searching, watching, sharing and creating video contents, among other specific uses given to it by its users. With more than 1.9 m monthly users (YouTube, 2019), it plays a leading role in the new media ecology largely due to its ability to reinvent itself over time. It was launched as an independent platform for ordinary people to upload videos; the following year it was purchased by Google.

The main evolutionary steps that YouTube took as part of the Alphabet Inc. meta-platform include the introduction of recommendation-filtering algorithms for suggesting content, the creation of ‘channels’ and the launching of its Premium subscription, YouTube Music and YouTube Kids. According to van Dijck (2013)

YouTube did not really invent video sharing as a sociotechnical practice, and neither did it revolutionize broadcast technology. Contrary to public image, Google pushed professional content at an early stage, and its innovative online strategies soon merged with conventional broadcast tactics. (p. 111)YouTube’s evolutionary process has not only been marked by technological changes, but also by a clear interplay with users and their practices within the platform.

According to Burgess and Green (2018), each YouTube group of contributors and participants has collectively shaped the platform as a cultural system. Teens are one of the groups of users that continues to grow worldwide and thus deserves research attention (Bucher, 2018; Caron, Raby, Mitchell, Théwissen-LeBlanc, & Prioletta, 2017).

Source: reviewed article

This article comes from a research study on teens and transmedia collaborative practices carried out in eight countries between 2015 and 2018. The aims of the research were to understand what teens are doing with media and how they are learning to do it. In order to answer these questions, the research team identified and analysed teens’ transmedia practices and the main informal learning strategies they apply in everyday life. This article focuses on the main outputs related to the uses teens make of YouTube.

YouTube occupies a central role in the media life of teens (boyd, 2014; Ito et al., 2010; Pereira, Moura, & Fillol, 2018). During the data-gathering phase of the research, it was clear that teens could approach the platform as either consumers and/or producers. YouTube is a key space of their media diet and, in some cases, is their main source of information. YouTube, more than Google, is for many teens the main search engine.

It is a platform that offers teens not only entertainment but also generates a sense of community. Within this framework, for many teens YouTubers have become aspirational models they can identify with (Aran-Ramspott, Fedele, & Tarragó, 2018; Scolari & Fraticelli, 2017). Teenagers even claim to want to become YouTubers in the future, and consider it a profession (Establés, Guerrero-Pico, & Contreras-Espinosa, 2019).

Taking into account the important role YouTube plays for teens, it is necessary to explore the uses, practices and understandings they give to it. In a time when multiple instances of social life are expressed and conditioned by digital media and platforms, by looking at media practices it is possible to better understand the unique social processes that are enacted through them (Couldry, 2012), and which use artefacts, technologies and their architectures.

To complete the study of teens’ YouTube uses and practices, the article analyses the YouTube metaphors that teens apply in their discourses about the platform. From a cognitive approach, metaphors are not just a way of enriching the language but a powerful tool for understanding new phenomena and thinking about them (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). According to Reimer and Camp (2008) ‘what we would normally classify as metaphorical language should, on this view, be analyzed instead as a direct, explicit representation of a metaphorical way of thinking’ (p. 859). To identify and analyse teens’ metaphors of YouTube is another way of reconstructing what they think about the platform and how they use it.

Therefore, the main objectives of the article are:

  • To present a map of the most relevant teen YouTube uses and practices;
  • To identify, describe and analyse the most relevant metaphors of YouTube detected in teens’ discourses.

Studying teens’ transmedia collaborative practices and uses within a platform like YouTube offers a universe of possibilities for understanding these social phenomena. Therefore, the following section reflects on the basic concepts behind the present article: practices, uses and metaphors.


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Fernanda Pires, Maria-Jose Masanet & Carlos A. Scolari (2019) «What are teens doing with YouTube? Practices, uses and metaphors of the most popular audio-visual platform». Information, Communication & Society, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2019.1672766