Rebecca Fisher sits in a cornfield, dressed in a simple yellow dress with a black apron over top.
The 14-year-old, with her hair parted down the middle, pulled back and tucked under a head covering, is wearing traditional Amish attire.
“I’m from Lancaster, PA. And it’s LANG-kiss-ter, not Lang-CAS-ter. It’s LANG-kiss-ter. Say it really fast,” Fisher says to the front-facing screen of her smartphone, which records her short-winded rant.
Before ending the video, she adds a curt, “And Sheetz is better than Wawa.”
This video’s description reads “#Pennsylvania. I’m Amish.”
Posted in early July on TikTok, a short-form video-sharing app, it has received more than 424,000 views since it was uploaded. It has been “liked” nearly 22,000 times and has garnered more than 1,300 comments and 1,500 shares.
Fisher is only one of many Amish teens on social media.
It began with Facebook, but Amish teens have moved to Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify
Amish teens in Lancaster County flocked to Facebook in the early 2010s. The young adults were quick to post photos of themselves in “English” clothing, with statuses updating friends on when the upcoming hymn sing would take place or how their latest trip to another settlement went.
In 2011, Gil Smart reported in The Sunday News that Amish teens were “hitchin’ up to Facebook.
Eight years later, it’s clear that the site is no longer the one-stop shop for social networking it once was.
As other social media apps — such as Instagram, Snapchat and Spotify — have been developed and popularized among the English, more and more Amish youth have created accounts.
Music-streaming app Spotify is used by Amish teens to listen to an array of music genres, from country to rap to Christian pop. Multimedia messaging app Snapchat is used to send photos and videos to friends.
It’s impossible to know how many Amish youth are using social media sites. The young adults seldom identify themselves as Amish, but they expose their upbringing in other ways.
The telltale signs? Traditional Amish dress, “friends” and “followers,” and a traditional Amish name like Stoltzfus, Zook or Glick, according to Charles Jantzi, professor of psychology at Messiah College and researcher of Amish youth and social media.
LNP/LancasterOnline worked with Jantzi and other experts to identify Amish young people on social media.
The Amish relationship with technology
In the closed, religious community, technology is selectively used. The Amish do not necessarily reject technology – instead, emerging technologies are evaluated by whether they can be adapted to fit the values of the Amish church, said Jantzi.
The 229 church districts in Lancaster County have varying views of what technologies can be allowed.
While some have rigid rules against cell phones, others lean more progressively and allow cell phones for business purposes, according to Donald Kraybill, senior emeritus fellow at the Young Center at Elizabethtown College.
While each church district makes its own decisions about technology, the process is “very fuzzy, slow and unpredictable” and often happens through “informal conversation,” said Kraybill.
The rumspringa experience and phone usage
However, during rumspringa, a period of time beginning at 16 years old and ending at marriage, Amish boys and girls gather on the weekends to sing, play volleyball and hang out. It’s likely that during that time, some Amish teens might be exposed to more worldly things and choose to purchase smartphones, said Jantzi.
One formerly Amish man, Steven Stoltzfus of Birdsboro, said that when he was a teen, his peers would buy either burner phones or a phone plan.
“John,” 25, is a former Amish man from the Gap area who asked that his name not be used. He said that he and a few of his Amish friends started a group phone plan together and would each pay for their share.
To avoid phone bills showing up at home and parents finding out, both men said, many Amish teens would have the bills addressed to a neighbor or to an English friend’s house instead.
According to Jantzi, Amish “gangs” (or youth groups) shape the rumspringa experience — some “fancy,” or progressive, gangs might accept the use of smart phones. “Plain,” or conservative, gangs might not.
For some Amish teens, owning a cell phone, especially a smartphone, can lead to punishment, depending on the rules of their gangs.
One Amish girl interviewed for this story, who asked for her name not to be used, said that within her gang, the punishment for being caught with a cell phone is a three-week suspension from youth group. She is in a more conservative gang and lives in the Gap area.
But according to Jantzi, this response is not widespread across Lancaster County. Only plain gangs tend to react harshly to phone usage, he said.
Amish values and social media
At issue is the conflict, or potential conflict, between traditional Amish values and the proliferation of social media networking.
Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar, senior lecturer at Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel, conducted a study of Old Order Amish and Ultra-Orthodox Women and their responses to cell phone and smartphone use, and said that Amish women in her study considered smartphones to be “the most dangerous device” — even more so than radio or television.
Jantzi, who also studies the impact of social media on mental health, said that apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat could be harmful to Amish teens, as the apps contrast so greatly to the Amish lifestyle.
“Social media undermines so many of the Amish values,” Jantzi said.
Stoltzfus said that social media “definitely makes it easier” for “uncertain, unsatisfied and struggling (Amish) individuals” to be tempted to leave their community behind and join the English.
Beiler echoed that thought, saying that having access to social media helped foster his discontentment with the isolated Amish community.
He said he wanted to continue his schooling past 8th grade, and he found his smartphone to be a direct line to endless knowledge. Traditionally, Amish girls and boys are only educated through 8th grade, at which point they go to work on the family farm or in the family business.
Interested in theology, Beiler said he used his smartphone to research interpretations of scripture that differed from that of the Amish church.
Beiler said getting a smartphone as an Amish teen wasn’t something he thought much about. All of his friends had phones, so why wouldn’t he? They also had Facebook accounts, so Beiler signed up for one, too. Besides, what else would he do on his new smartphone, if not scroll aimlessly on social media apps? he said.
Jantzi noted that smartphones could potentially impact how many young people decide to be baptized into the Amish church. Like Beiler, many Amish teens could be drawn away from their upbringings due to the lure of technology.
“The Amish have been amazingly resilient,” he said. “But I just feel like the world of the internet is a power like nothing we’ve ever seen.”
“And can you really shut the door on that?” Jantzi said. “If anybody can do it, it’s the Amish.”
Instagram: Why this photo-sharing app is the most popular among Amish teens
Like “English” teens, Amish youth have mostly abandoned Facebook, Jantzi said — Instagram is now the most popular social media platform among Amish young adults. (Twitter, which was also popular with Amish teens in the mid-2010s, is seldom used by Amish teens anymore, Jantzi said.)
For many Amish young adults, their follower count on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and used for photos and video-sharing, almost triples their amount of “friends” on Facebook.
Beiler said that Amish teens are drawn to Instagram because of the visuals.
“Instagram is all about photos, and everybody’s into photography and photo editing,” he said.
Instagram’s popularity among the Amish can seem surprising, considering the Amish belief that posed photographs violate the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image.”
Several tourist attractions in the area have signage discouraging visitors from taking photos of the Amish. At Kitchen Kettle in Intercourse, a sign was put in place more than 50 years ago prohibiting tourists from snapping any photos of the Amish employees.
“We respect the values of our Amish employees and want them to feel comfortable at work,” said Lisa Horn, director of fun at Kitchen Kettle.
But according to Beiler, most Amish teens could not care less about having their photo taken. In fact, he said that any hesitation to photos is often rooted in saving face.
“[They’re trying to] live up to the standards that the outside world believes they live up to,” Beiler said. “The idea that the Amish are opposed to photos is not completely true.”
Beiler said that his parents have photos from their teenage years stashed away.
The only difference from then and now? Beiler’s parent’s photos are tucked away in a photo album; Beiler’s photos live on Facebook and Instagram, on public profiles.
In fact, many Amish teens don’t make their accounts “private,” meaning anyone can view their public profile.
How do the kids get away with having these social media profiles? No one is looking for Amish kids of Instagram, and Amish kids aren’t looking to follow/befriend anyone who isn’t Amish, said Beiler.
The content on Instagram doesn’t differ too much from what Amish teens were posting on Facebook years ago. On a typical young Amish adult’s Instagram account, one can see selfies, and photos of trips to the beach, friends, and products of trade, such as freshly planted fields or beautifully stained cabinets.
More unique posts include videos of Amish boys mastering skateboarding tricks, shirtless mirror pictures, and selfies taken with vapes in hand.
Captions are often positive and encourage followers to pursue a life with values reflected in the Amish church. More often than not, captions include Bible verses.
Like their “English” counterparts, Amish teens are active with each other through social media, “liking” and commenting on each other’s posts. On the photo of a young Amish man’s newly installed buggy dash, one friend commented “that’s lit!” (an “English” slang term meaning “awesome”) and another commented with several thumbs-up emojis.
Many of the profiles of these Instagram accounts also include bios that often include some sort of religious or inspirational statement, such as “When others look at me, I want them to see Christ in me!” or “Nothing meant for my Future Will get lost in my Past.” One young man’s bio read “Don’t let your phone control your life.” Several also list their Snapchat usernames in their bios.
Jantzi said that he’s found Instagram to contrast vastly against the Amish values.
“(Instagram) really places a great deal of emphasis on the person,” he said. “…and that’s so different than Amish tradition.”
Social media sites like Instagram, by default, is focused not on community, but instead of the individual, Jantzi said. As a faith group that focuses on community and condemns individuality, the Amish could be threatened by social media, Jantzi said.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that (Instagram) is not chipping away at some of those internal values that the Amish hold,” Jantzi said.