Twitter is a constant stream of new information, but only 8% of U.S. adults are using it to consume news, with 85% of those consumers using their mobile phones compared to only 40% of the total population.
This finding is from a recent study from Pew Research, in a survey of 5,000 adults. Of those surveyed, 736 are Twitter users who tend to be younger and more educated than that of the average population. In fact, Twitter users are younger, more educated, and more mobile even when compared to Facebook news consumers. The chart below shows that Twitter users are at least 20% more likely to use their mobile devices than Facebook users when accessing news.
Since the demographics of Twitter tends to be much different than that of the average population it’s no surprise that Twitter is a poor proxy for public opinion. The survey analyzed some previous studies, including one conduced during the 2012 presidential race, when Ron Paul easily won the Twitter primaries with 55% of tweets as positive. In fact, Ron was the most popular Republican candidate on Twitter, while getting the least amount of news coverage and lagging behind in polls.
What’s more interesting is how Twitter users are sharing news. Researchers found that following the death of Trayvon Martin, only 39% of tweets expressed personal sentiments about the tragic event. The majority of tweets just relayed the story headline. As stories develop on Twitter, users will express, but also change their opinions.
A study of the aftermath of the Newtown shooting reveals how quickly the focus of the Twitter conversation can change. On Dec. 14, 2012, expressions of sympathy for the victims made up nearly one-third of the conversation; by Dec. 17, it was down to 13%. In the same period, attention to President Obama, the shooter and mental health issues more than doubled — from 11% to 24% of the conversation.
Visit Journalism.org to read the full study.