First it was Myspace, then it was Facebook. Now it’s Twitter.
Say I’m really excited about something, I’ll tweet about it. If I’m really nervous about something, I’ll tweet about it,” said Oliver Jimenez, 17, a junior at Warren Central High School.
For many youth, Twitter has become the preferred form of communication, especially with peers. They like its brevity and simple format.
For folks out there who are not Twitter-savvy, the general concept is to tweet constant updates of one’s life or thoughts to one’s “followers.” With a 140-character limit, each update is short and sweet. Incoming tweets post as a scroll on a follower’s account, with the most recent on top.
While Facebook allows many more forms of communication — writing on walls, commenting on photos, liking pages, “poking” friends, and joining groups — all of that takes time, not only to post but to navigate. In addition, Facebook recently changed its format, which aggravated many users.
Twitter is simpler – one short tweet. However, it’s still possible to share pictures and videos, direct-message people, and tag (or mention) other users, as long as it fits within 140 characters. And Twitter provides an easy timeline – by scrolling down, users can view all preceding tweets.
While most teens still maintain a Facebook page, more and more prefer Twitter for everyday use. “I don’t think Twitter necessarily is a good way to interact with friends, as well as Facebook is. But to keep updated on what your friends are doing that day, it’s just kind of convenient,” said Allie Dean, 17, a junior at North Central High School.
Tweeters prefer to scroll through many little sentences sent by their friends rather than wade through multiple statuses on Facebook. What they want, they say, are quick hits about what their friends are doing and thinking throughout the day.
“People have the need to keep up with what’s going on with everyone they know,” explained Oliver.
While updating your Facebook several times a day is socially frowned upon, constant tweeting is not only acceptable, but embraced. Tweets need to be concise, not profound. Teens tweet about being bored or being happy; they tweet about weekend plans or shows they like. It’s not unusual to tweet 10 to 20 times a day.
And because of Twitter’s simplicity, seeing a tweet is as easy as tapping a smartphone app.
“It’s kind of out of habit now that when I’m on my phone, I check my Twitter app and I just refresh it, kind of scroll through it quickly. Like it’s one of the first things I do when I wake up,” Allie said.
However, not all tweets are informative updates. Wherever there is faceless interaction, there is bound to be some sort of drama.
The dirty underside of tweeting is subtweeting. When a person subtweets someone, they are casually mentioning that person in a negative manner without directly saying the person’s name.
Sound complicated? It’s not. Here’s an example: "Seriously hate it when one of my followers feels the need to update Twitter every 5 minutes. Can you say pathetic?"
With such oblique references, the tweeter’s followers are left to question if they are the intended target. And while the tweeter can always deny that any harm was intended, some followers might end up with hurt feelings while others might jump to wrong conclusions.
Inevitably, another round of tweets ensues, with those who took offense retaliating, often with even cheekier remarks. In the end, relationships end up more fractured than before.
“People start stuff by saying little snarky comments on Twitter, and easily things can escalate,” Allie said. “In 140 characters you can insult someone without even saying their name, and then it just explodes into something a lot more.”
And it’s not uncommon.
“There are a lot of people that just get on and just try to start drama,” added Oliver.
The social implications of social networking are ever prevalent on Twitter as well. The number of followers you have, whom you follow, who’s following you, what you tweet, how often you tweet, how many hashtags you use, and the list goes on.
What might appear to non-tweeters as ridiculous social rules have many users carefully monitoring their stats.
“If you follow too many people in comparison to how many followers you have, it’s not cool,” said Oliver.
Paranoia can set in when you lose followers, too. Allie says she’s often left questioning why when someone quits following her tweets.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, five people un-followed me. What did I do? Did they just get mad at me for stupid stuff, or did I tweet too much?’” she said.
Because of their popularity with youth, some schools and teachers have begun to use social networking sites, including Twitter. Mark “Doc” Miller, a science teacher at North Central High School, has started using Twitter to connect with his students beyond the classroom because it is not as personal or intrusive as Facebook.
“I find that we’re communicating better. Students come in with an awareness that they didn’t have before.” Miller said. “I can get to them where they are, as opposed to having to kind of pull people in.”
Even if students don’t have access to the Internet or Twitter, which is becoming increasingly less common, Miller makes sure his tweeting includes only supplemental information.
“I don’t give students anything that I wouldn’t give them in class,” Miller said. “If you’re sitting at home checking Twitter and your teacher tweets, ‘Hey, you have a test tomorrow,’ that may wake you up.”
However, Twitter can be misused in an educational setting. Earlier this year, students at Lawrence North High School, posing as school staff, tweeted hateful comments with fake Twitter accounts.
Despite the negatives, Miller argues that the use of social media in education is here to stay. “I believe that students need to learn how to use technology responsibly, not be afraid of it or ban it. Because when you get out of here, that’s what you’re going to be using.”
Some for-profit organizations are trying to tap into Twitter’s youth market as well. Katharine Zaleski is executive director for digital news products for The Washington Post. Twitter is one of the many ways she is trying to engage new audiences, including youth.
“I don’t have specific numbers, but with any form of social media, you’re hoping that you’re going to reach a demographic that might be different than your current demographic,” she said.
Twitter offers near instantaneous information about events and noteworthy individuals. “You can get a lot of information around an event, and a lot of sentiment around an event, in real time. It’s incredibly fast,” Zaleski said.
And youth do use Twitter for news, though not necessarily the kind reported by The Washington Post.
“If I’ve just heard gossip, I kind of like look for the hashtag that goes along with it,” Allie said. “Like Snookie’s pregnancy, that was like the most recent thing on Twitter, so I kind of looked at a hashtag just to see like if it was true.”
Oliver says he uses Twitter to follow sports news. “During football season, like you can follow certain accounts, and they’ll keep you updated on players’ injuries, the status of a player, the status of team.”
Both students also follow trending topics, or subjects that are garnering lots of tweets. But it’s easy to become overloaded. “If I go to a trending topic and I try to read what people are saying, like after five minutes I look at the top of my screen and there’s like 100 plus new tweets. So it really does take up a lot of time. You’ll get sucked into it right away,” Oliver said.
Another problem, according to Zaleski, is that tweets can come from anybody, so they might not be unbiased or true.
“People need to be careful that they verify (a tweet), and if they’re going to post a tweet that is a statement, they need to make sure that they have actually sourced that statement correctly,” she said.
Despite its shortcomings, Twitter will continue to be popular — at least until the next application comes along.
Assistant editors Danielle Hensley, 15, and Zach Manges, 18, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 Y-Press