Twitter News Users Are 'Young, Mobile and Educated:' Report
November 6, 2013

Twitter News Users Are ‘Young, Mobile and Educated:’ Report

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

In a nearly three-year-long study of Twitter users, a newly published report finds that those who look to the microblogging platform for daily news are becoming younger, more educated, and increasingly rely on their mobile devices to bring them the content they crave.

The report, "Twitter News Consumers: Young, Mobile and Educated," released jointly by Pew Research Center and the James S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that while 30 percent of users seek news over Facebook, the eight percent of US adults who get news through Twitter are younger, more mobile and more educated.

The study considers news to be "information about events and issues that involve more than just your friends and family." According to the survey, 16 percent of US adults use Twitter and about half of that cohort (52 percent) use it for their news.

The two-part report involved a survey of more than 5,000 US adults, and a second component that includes an analysis of Twitter conversations surrounding major news events. Researchers analyzed posts for information shared, sentiments expressed and volume of interest. Of the 5,000 surveyed, 736 US adults used Twitter, and 3,268 used Facebook.

Brevity is often cited as a characteristic of the mobile platform. Perhaps that is why mobile devices have become a key point of access for people using Twitter, which limits posts to 140 characters. "The vast majority, 85 percent, get news (of any kind) at least sometimes on mobile devices. That outpaces Facebook news consumers by 20 percentage points; 64 percent of Facebook news consumers use mobile devices for news. The same is true of 40 percent of all US adults overall," the report stated.

Twitter users tend to be younger and more educated "than both the population overall and Facebook news consumers," the report added.

"Close to half, 45 percent, of Twitter news consumers are 18-29 years old. That is more than twice that of the population overall (21 percent) and also outpaces young adults' representation among Facebook news consumers, where 34 percent are 18-29 years old," said the report.

A small number (2 percent) of Twitter news consumers are 65 or older. The report compares the group of older Twitter news consumers to 18 percent of the total population and 7 percent of Facebook news consumers.

Twitter also skews to a more educated user. Four in ten, or 40 percent, if Twitter news consumers have at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 29 percent of the total population and 30 percent of Facebook news consumers.

Pew Research Center tracked and analyzed the Twitter conversations surrounding 10 major news events that occurred between May 2011 and October 2013. Events included the opening night of the summer Olympics, the Newton, Connecticut school shootings and the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage. Researchers looked at the elements of the news discussed, the tone and interest levels of the Twitter posts. Pew Research Center identified three central themes: Twitter users pass along news information as events develop; Twitter conversations about big news events evolve in sentiment and topic; and Twitter can match the sentiment of the general population.

"Even with the outpouring of emotion after the July 13, 2013, acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, the largest component of the Twitter conversation (39 percent of all expressed sentiments in tweets about the event) shared news of that verdict without offering an opinion. Straight news accounts also led the Twitter conversation about the Oct. 1 rollout of the Affordable Care Act (42 percent) and the concurrent federal government shutdown (35 percent) -- two events that stirred political passions," the report said.

Big news events shift and evolve as the events develop. "In the two weeks after the March 2013 Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, Twitter sentiment was far more opposed to the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage (55 percent) than in favor (32 percent). Yet in the month after that, support for same-sex marriage (43 percent) easily trumped opposition (26 percent)," stated the report.

Twitter sentiment can match that of the general population, but should not be read as a reliable account of public opinion, warns the report.

"During the 2012 presidential race, Republican candidate Ron Paul easily won the Twitter primary -- 55 percent of the conversation about him was positive, with only 15 percent negative," Pew Research Center stated in the report. The outcome of the primary race, however, differed from the Twitter outcome.