Navigating Twitter: Studies show content can be skewed

A recent Pew Research Center study found that 80% of Twitter content comes from 10% of its users, which raises questions of whose voices are represented across Twitter. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

By Preston Gossett | Contributor

Six thousand tweets are posted each second, according to the Worldometers’ RTS algorithm. Upwards of 500 million tweets are posted each day, yet it’s only a select few users that dominate Twitter and other social media platforms. This begs the question: Whose voices are represented across Twitter?

Breaking news, music releases, sports content and presidential nominee announcements are all included on Twitter, an interactive social media platform many turn to for information on daily events. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that 80% of Twitter’s content comes from only 10% of its users.

Robert Darden, a professor in the department of journalism, public relations and new media said navigating Twitter can be challenging for many users.

“The rules of engagement have not been fully established, nor fully enforced,” Darden said. “And when you’ve got this coupled with [Twitter’s] kind of power, you give a handful of people a disproportionate voice and a disproportionate influence on public policy.”

The Pew Research Center surveyed 2,791 adult Twitter users from the United States to see how they compared to the general public. The study shows that 22% of U.S. adults on Twitter represent a specific population of people. What they discovered wasn’t all that surprising: 78% of Twitter users tend to be younger Democrats with higher levels of education and income. They are also “somewhat more likely to … see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society,” according to the Pew Research Center.

In addition, the study also highlights the differences in activity within the Twitter community. “You use [Twitter] to build your base to create an unfiltered voice for whatever it is you’re selling … and with that comes responsibility,” Darden said. “However, you end up not in a democracy, but in a situation where the person who screams the loudest the longest wins.”

A different study done by MIT News shows that a good portion of what you’re reading on social media could be false news and rumors, simply re-tweeted and circulated daily. Content has recently become a cascade of information –– a stream flowing, dividing and filling every nook and cranny it can find.

With content and user activity changing constantly, it makes sense that falsehoods and “fake news” could spread more quickly than the truth on Twitter. The MIT News study and similar studies have linked it to an appreciation for novelty or the desire to see new things. “People who share novel information are seen as being in the know,” and can quickly gain traction and followers by being the first to tweet or hashtag news and events, according to the MIT News study.

For some, Twitter is used as a platform for commenting on current events or other people’s tweets. For others, Twitter is nothing more than a platform for ranting. As an example, after the Baylor Lady Bear’s recent championship win, President Donald Trump welcomed them to the White House, where he praised them for their win and their efforts with a spread of fast food.

Coach Kim Mulkey has been called out for supposedly mocking Trump’s selection of food. This was based on a photo on Twitter where Mulkey was pointing at the food and scowling; however, there were no interviews, no follow-ups and no questions asked about the context of her facial expression.

“People can take pictures, they can take information, they can make assumptions based on anything and put it out there with a blue check mark by their name,” said Kyle Robarts, associate director of athletics communications.

Mulkey did not respond to the attention the photo of her “grimace” has received on Twitter, even though it has received upwards of 25,000 retweets.

“The thing about this situation and [Twitter] is that we can only control what we can control,” Robarts said. “We can’t control what other people tweet, so we just keep putting out our message that we were excited to be [at the White House] and we were honored to be there. People are going to say what they’re going to say anyway.”