Who Gives a Tweet?

Twitter is blowing up. Not in the traditional use of the vernacular, of course, but in the shit being spit in the streets, yo. (Yeah, I’m white and have no slang skills. Sue me.)

What I’m getting at is that while only five percent of Americans older than 12 knew about Tweeting in 2008, more than 87 percent was aware of it just two years later. Twitter enjoyed a 1,382 percent year-over-year growth rate in unique visitors during that time span and it claims a user base of more than 175 million people.

But while that may sound like a lot, it’s really not.

Only six percent of Americans had signed up for Twitter by 2010. Sure, you might assume that it’s because the older population “doesn’t get it” or doesn’t want to join. But you’d again be wrong.

In a new study published in New Media & Society by Northwestern associate professor of communication studies Eszter Hargittai, the statistics show that fewer than one-fifth of young adults use Twitter at all. So the question is, who is using the service and why? Are there characteristics that can predict who will sign up and who is already using it?

To find out, Hargittai went into the classrooms of a general studies course taken by a diverse set of Freshmen at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Asking the students to fill out a questionnaire with paper and pencil removed any bias towards the more tech savvy students. A year later, snail mail was sent asking people to follow-up on their survey. Analyzing the responses of the 505 students smart enough to jump at a free $20 showed some trends.

In short, African-Americans are more likely to join Twitter than any other ethnicity, blowing whites (20.8%) and Asians (10.1%) out of the water with a 37.2% usage rate. Why is this? Do they feel more connected with family who use social media as well? Are they more tech-savvy than their peers? Nope. The research indicates they’re simply more interested in Hollywood.

Wanting to know more about celebrity life and Hollywood glamour – a.k.a. the idiots who spend their time reading People and watching E! – is the strongest predictor of Twitter usage. Also, more African Americans reported an interest in celebrity gossip than any other ethnicity in the study. Finally, when looking at only the subset of those who want to know more about Reece Witherspoon’s wedding, the race difference goes away.

I’m no genius, but I know that 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. African Americans use Twitter more than their peers because they’re more interested in Hollywood gossip. Well, at least that’s the case for this small 500 sampling of freshmen at a single university. Obviously, there are limits to how far these results can be generalized to the rest of the population.

On another note, the study revealed that almost nobody in the demographic uses Twitter to follow local, national and international news or politics. Makes you optimistic about our future, no?

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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One Response to Who Gives a Tweet?

  1. Melanie says:

    This makes total sense to me. I tried to do a Twitter-esque assignment last year and I was shocked at how many of my students didn’t even know what Twitter was. I thought it was them. Turns out it’s not just them. Who knew?

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