Teens are turning to Twitter over Facebook to talk with friends, demonstrating demand for a more intimate experience as young adults become a valuable demographic for social networks.
A new study by the Pew Research Center reports that teenagers’ Twitter use has doubled in the past two years. Young people are grasping the unique benefits the site offers, transforming Twitter’s original audience of tech-savvy, self-promoting adults into a younger, socially-minded set.
People see Twitter as a public venue because most tweets are openly available to users and non-users alike, and celebrities use the site as a promotional platform. Twitter’s default settings allow public access, but teenagers are finding ways to use the site differently.
Teenagers often lock their accounts, making their messages available to only their selected followers. They can use anonymous handles, and set up multiple accounts. They don’t need static or verified public identification. These elements appeal to teenagers who want to communicate under the radar, beyond prying eyes.
Even teens who don’t lock their accounts feel the site is less public than Facebook, because they are able to restrict who monitors their activity.
However, Twitter could vie with other social networks as Facebook and others make adjustments to their privacy controls as competition in social media heats up.
In response to concerns about over-sharing, Facebook rolled out privacy adjustments last summer to offer users more control over who views their site. Facebook’s list function does give customized privacy settings, but teens are demonstrating a tendency to move their more intimate thoughts onto Twitter instead of fiddling with individualized lists.
The valued teen demographic’s growing attachment to Twitter also threatens Google+. Facebook’s biggest competitor recentlywelcomed teens on the site, boasting advanced customized privacy settings. It also bought Katango, a start-up social website that sorts friends into categories, a feature that appeals to teenagers.
As parents grow aware of their teens’ tweets, they are likely to sign up for the service to monitor their children in the same way they did on Facebook. If that happens, Google+ may have an advantage as a site unspoiled by parental supervision.
Still, these competitors lack some advantages Twitter possesses for teens. Older generations are signing up for Facebook in droves, but parents and grandparents remain largely oblivious to Twitter. Although anyone can look at unlocked Twitter accounts, teens don’t worry about their parents or superiors finding them, as they do with Facebook, because these authority figures aren’t active on Twitter or comfortable using the site. Moreover, teens find it easier to keep their Twitter circle to a smaller group of followers, where they often feel socially obligated to “friend” their acquaintances and family members on Facebook.
Teenagers’ preferences are fickle, but their desire for a place to communicate privately is likely to endure. Although other social media sites are working to develop optimal privacy conditions, at the moment, teenagers seem to be enjoying their self-selected Twitter communities.