BanklessTimes has conducted a study on this, taking various social media companies’ reported carbon emissions and dividing them amongst their users and the time each one spends on the apps.

The most pollutive app, according to the study, is TikTok, which despite only having a third of Facebook’s userbase, produces more CO2 than any competitor. They have a solid 30% lead over rival Reddit on emissions per capita, at 30.72kg of CO2 per year, per user. To put it into comparison, this is equal to 0.38% of the average carbon emissions of a Chinese citizen in 2021, or slightly more than a flight from Beijing to Tianjin. If you were to scroll TikTok every day for as long as the average user does (32 minutes a day) for your entire life, you’d have generated slightly more carbon emissions than if you took a flight from Beijing to Malta.

When asked about why TikTok’s emissions are so great, BanklessTimes theorises that “the answer lies in the fact that streaming videos consumes more energy than scrolling through images or catching up on your friends’ updates.” However, this wouldn’t explain how the other video-based platform, Youtube, is the least emissive social media of the eight researched. The average Youtube user only produces 3.19kg of CO2 a year using the service, which is equivalent to 10% of the average footprint of a Congolese citizen in 2021, or a flight from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon.

In the second place, the only app to come close to TikTok in per capita emissions is Reddit, at 21.36kg a year, or 0.54% of the average Portuguese footprint in 2021.

The next highest per-capita emission is technically Pinterest, at 1.3g per minute, however, people seem to spend a significantly lesser amount of time scrolling the app than with others, having an average daily usage time of only 14.2 minutes, under half of that of TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or Twitter. Taking the entire year into consideration, Pinterest presents the 2nd lowest carbon footprint, with only 6.74kg a year per person.

In actual third place comes Instagram which produced 11.11kg of CO2 a year for every user, followed by Snapchat with 9.84kg a year, Facebook with 9.52, and Twitter with 6.79. The lowest of these values, Twitter, equivalates to 0.046% of the average American footprint in 2021, while the highest, Instagram, equals 0.075% of the same measure.

Jonathan Merry, the CEO of BanklessTimes, commented on these findings, giving his recommendation on what companies should do to improve their carbon footprint: “They should consider following the lead of Meta – the global giant has already achieved zero emissions and it plans to achieve its wider target of net zero emissions across its supply chain by 2030.” He highlights an aspect where he believes Meta has succeeded, saying “Another thing Meta has done well is to invest in renewable energy, with contracts in place for more than six gigawatts of wind and solar energy across 18 US states and five countries. Of course, not all social media companies have vast resources, but smaller companies could consider using carbon offsetting initiatives and making the SME Climate Commitment.”

So how much will the use of social media truly affect your carbon emissions? Well, it depends on many things, such as where you live, what your lifestyle besides social media is, and how much time you spend a day browsing the apps. We can, however, make some assumptions and try to get a good idea.

Firstly, the average person uses 8.4 different accounts over 6.6 different social media platforms. In total, they spend an average of 2 hours 25 minutes on social media every day, coming out to 36.5 days a year, or 5.7 years across an entire lifetime after the age of 16.

Japan is the country that spends the least time on social media on average, at 51 minutes a day, with the opposite extreme being occupied by the Philippines, at 4 hours 15 minutes every day.

Taking an average of the results on the BanklessTimes study, the typical social media platform will produce 1.27g of carbon dioxide every minute. Scaling this up, we get 76.35g an hour, and with the average daily time spent taken into consideration, it becomes 184.51g a day. This grows to 67.4kg of carbon dioxide per person a year, taking leap years into account too.

Finally, over an entire lifetime, all of this adds up to a whopping 4852.2kg of CO2. This equates to about the same amount that an average Spanish person will be responsible for emitting over a year, or the amount required to take a flight from Funchal, capital of the Portuguese Madeira archipelago, to Wellington, capital city of New Zealand.


Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.

Jay Bodsworth