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Study confirms: Twitter is not real life

This survey from the Pew Research Center uses hard data to explain some stark differences between the extremely online and those who tune Twitter out.

Study confirms: Twitter is not real life
[Photo: rawpixel]

Here are some of the top stories from Friday, April 5, 2019:

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  • The CEO of Boeing made a video apology for plane crashes that killed 346 people
  • Congress approved a resolution to end support of the war on Yemen
  • Trump announced his intention to nominate Herman Cain for a seat on the Federal Board

The top story on Twitter that day, however, was unquestionably Billy Ray Cyrus hopping on a remix of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” propelling the song, previously deemed by Billboard as “not Country enough,” to #1 on the charts. It was impossible to ignore, no matter what your carefully curated bubble looked like. This song remained the top trend on Twitter all day, and for anyone whose attention tends to be shackled to the app, it seemed like the most-discussed development in the world. Of course, the way certain people and ideas quickly metastasize on Twitter makes it easy to forget that Twitter is not the real world.

A new study makes that reality impossible to ignore.

Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey of 2,791 adult American Twitter users, and the team’s findings paint a stark contrast between those who are extremely online and those who are not. While the gender and ethnic makeup of Twitter users seems to be mostly similar to the greater U.S. population, there are significant differences in terms of political views, income-generation, and more.

Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated, and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. Twitter users also differ from the broader population on some key social issues. For instance, Twitter users are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country and to see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society.

  • Twitter users are younger, with a median age of 40, compared with the 47-year-old median age of all U.S. adults.
  • Twitter users are more likely to be Democrats; 36% of them lean that way on the app, compared with 30% of offline adults. (For reference, 21% of Twitterers identify as Republican, compared with 26% of all U.S. adults.)
  • Twitter users are more likely to have a college degree, with 42% having at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with a national adult average of 31%.
  • Twitter users are more likely to report a household income above $75,000, with 41% of Twitterers at that level, compared with 32% of total U.S. adults.

These findings echo a recent New York Times study, which revealed Democrats on Twitter to be, by and large, more progressive than the Biden-loving liberals who languish offline. The Pew Research Center study gets granular, though, to show some of the specific ways Democrats lean toward the center offline more than on Twitter.

“A larger share of Twitter users – who as noted above are more likely to identify as Democrats relative to the population as a whole – 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%).”

If the more deeply felt opinions seem to resonate heavier on Twitter, however, perhaps it’s because, as the study points out, the most prolific 10% of Twitterers create 80% of the total tweets. In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking that the most popular opinions on Twitter represent the most popular opinions offline. But also, don’t be discouraged into thinking it’s impossible to make the most popular opinions on Twitter more popular offline too.

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Take a longer break from Twitter to read the entire study here.

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