Two new studies from the Pew Research Center on American use of Twitter find both a surprising level of trust in that social platform and a partisan divide in views about it. They also suggest Twitter’s privacy interfaces need serious work.
These studies released Monday—The Behaviors and Attitudes of US Adults on Twitter and News on Twitter: Consumed by Most Users and Trusted by Many—shed new light on the social platform that continues to draw far more debate than you might expect for a service only used by 23% of Americans, per a Pew study released in May.
To begin, Pew’s researchers find that Twitter remains lurker-dominated; the top 25% of users by tweet volume post 97% of all tweets (including replies, retweets, and quote tweets). One-third of users report visiting Twitter less than once a week, versus 66% visiting at least weekly. Meanwhile, 10% say they couldn’t count how often they hit the site daily. (It me.)
More tweeps read Twitter primarily for entertainment—42% of respondents—than for news, at 20%. But among the 69% who report getting news on Twitter, two-thirds have “at least some trust” in the accuracy of that news.
That’s a higher score than social media earned overall in a Pew study released in January, when 59% of Americans getting news that way found it “largely inaccurate.”
A Partisan Divide
Digging into political attitudes unearthed a partisan gap, though. Twitter users identifying as Democrats or leaning toward that party—42% of news readers on Twitter, per the study—are more confident about news there, with 74% reporting at least some trust in it. For Republicans and those leaning towards the GOP, the figure was just 52%.
Dems also have more faith in Twitter’s overall effect on US politics, with 47% of them saying Twitter has been mostly good for American democracy and 28% rating it mostly bad. Among Republicans, the figures flip, with 60% calling Twitter mostly bad for democracy and only 17% judging it mostly good.
A similar gap emerges when respondents are asked to judge which actions by Twitter are major problems: 59% of Republicans point to Twitter limiting the visibility of certain posts and 61% say the same about Twitter banning users. Among Democrats, only 17% and 6%, respectively, share those views.
A frequent cause of Twitter bans—harassing other people on the service—has not hit most respondents to Pew’s survey, with only 17% reporting personal experience.
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Your Account Is Private: Are You Sure?
The part of the survey that Twitter’s designers should consider first: its findings about people’s privacy choices.
Among respondents who gave Pew their Twitter handles, researchers found 89% of these accounts are public—which is bad, considering that only 65% of this subset think their accounts are public. And among respondents who said either their accounts are private or that they aren’t sure of their privacy settings, 83% are public.
This Washington think tank, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, surveyed 2,548 American adults in May, of which 1,026 reported Twitter handles for further research.
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