I have personally never used Twitter, or even visited the site. Perhaps it's my grand old age of 35 that keeps me away. And yet a small, loud minority makes me feel like everyone is on Twitter.
In any case, ‘tweets’ still make their way to me because journalists regularly quote the various reactions to any given story. For instance, I know through the media that the term “Easter Worshippers” was used in the tweets of Obama, Hillary Clinton and various others in place of “Catholic” or “Christian” in response to the recent bombings in Sri Lanka, which made some Christians ponder what lay behind such deliberate language.
So, who do these voices, opinions and neologisms belong to? A recent (American centric) Pew Research Center study set out to answer this question, calling Twitter a “modern public square”. Key results included:
U.S. adult Twitter users are younger and more likely to be Democrats than the general public. Most users rarely tweet, but the most prolific 10% create 80% of tweets from adult U.S. users.
Pew split up the Twitter users it surveyed into two groups: the top 10 percent (the most active users) and the bottom 90 percent. These two groups were found to be very different. While the bottom 90 percent barely used Twitter, the top 10 percent tweeted a median of 138 times a month.
Twitter users are also more highly educated, have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall, and differ from the broader population on some key social issues.
For instance, a larger share of Twitter users say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites (64% of Twitter users vs. 54% of Americans). They are also more likely than the U.S. general public to say that immigrants strengthen the U.S. (66% vs. 57%) and that barriers exist in society that make it harder for women to get ahead (62% vs. 56%). However, the gender and racial or ethnic makeup of Twitter users is largely similar to the adult population as a whole.
Twitter users are also less likely than U.S. adults more broadly to characterize their views as very conservative. On an 11-point scale ranging from 0 (“very conservative”) to 10 (“very liberal”), 14% of Twitter users place themselves between 0 and 2, compared with 25% of the general public.
These differences add fuel to the argument that the loudest political voices are out-of-step with average people. The fact that this loud 10 percent spend their time reading and reacting to each other inside the Twitter “bubble” probably only perpetuates this.
Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography Is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.