Besides being a very popular social network, Twitter has become a tool for public figures to both disseminate information and garner content. It is already one of the most important public spaces for bidirectional social communication, one in which ideas are generated and shared through messages of a limited length (tweets) and the labelling of content (hashtags).

The image of the family in Twitter 

How does an institution like the family came across in this medium? Quite positively, according to a study by Victor Manuel Pérez Martínez of a selection of tweets published in Spanish with the hashtag “#familia” in 2014. This researcher found that “family” is associated with important social virtues: reverence for parents and other authorities (pietas), friendship, gratitude, justice and liberality.

Martinez reports that the content most shared reflects positive sentiments about family life, especially in relation to important moments like Christmas or family parties. “There was a clear intention on the part of the publishers of the tweets for sharing with others the act of living in family.” 

As was to be expected, the term family is used metaphorically as well, projecting its positive characteristics onto other realities. This is normal; it is what advertisers do when they represent ideal families to sell products for the home. “Followers” are considered an extension of the family (56% of the sample) and also “pets are part of the family” (5%).

Most commonly the family is seen as a place of gratuitous (unconditional) love (19%), something to be defended (12%), a gift (5%), a social mediator (4%), and as a place of memory or of roots (2%). Negative uses of the term are noticeably less common, but they include “family difficulties” (1.4%), “family with a problem” (0.3%).

It is very significant, says Martinez, that “family as an area of choice” (where homosexual “marriages” would be included) occurs in only 1.3% of the tweets.

He also notes that “messages with more favourites and retweets were created from personal accounts, and it was not organizations that led the impact on Twitter on the subject of family”.

Twitter healthier than Hollywood, television or newspapers 

The study was designed by the European research group Family and Media with the aim of finding whether content published on Twitter with the hashtag #family tended to confirm or distort social virtues normally associated with the family.

Family and Media concludes that, although there were no comparison groups for the study,

“on the basis of experience and other studies that we have published on our portal, the real world that appears in Twitter is healthier, in terms of the image of the family, than the world represented by film, television, and even newspapers.

“Is it because there are no ideological or commercial filters? Without a doubt the social networks, although they are not ‘neutral’, are more social than the traditional media, or at least they represent public opinion better — that is, the people’s views.

“ It is true that the study is limited to those tweets in Spanish. It remains to be seen what happens in other languages and, therefore, other cultures. We hope that the study will be repeated in other languages.”

Adapted from an article at Family and Media by Carmen Maria Martinez Conde and Norberto Gonzalez Gaitano

Norberto González Gaitano is Professor of Public Opinion at the School of Church Communications of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome) and the author of Public Opinion and the...