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Twitter not all that popular among teenagers, report finds

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By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This just in: Most American teenagers could not tweet less.

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According to a new report released Wednesday, only 8 percent of online teens have embraced Twitter, a notable low for a generation so passionate about technology. Think of the millions of text messages that teens send. Think of their endless hours on Facebook.

Twitter has not caught on in nearly the same way -- and experts suggest the difference is that most teens want to socialize with their friends and peers, not broadcast to the larger world.

"Most teens are not interested in being truly public," says Danah Boyd, a researcher with Microsoft Research and a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Even though Twitter allows users to limit their circle of friends, it is "fundamentally a public system," she says, and teens "look at this and say, 'Is this the best tool for doing what I want?' "

The new report, from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, found that older teens are more likely than younger ones to use Twitter, and that high school girls are the most interested, with 13 percent using Twitter, compared with 7 percent of boys the same age.

Researchers say most Twitter-minded teens follow the tweets of celebrities -- be it Miley Cyrus, Lance Armstrong, Chad Ochocinco, Shaquille O'Neal or Ashton Kutcher.

"I don't know a single person who uses Twitter," says Samara Fantie, 17, of Gaithersburg, who added that with so many of her friends on Facebook, Twitter seems beside the point.

Fantie listed its drawbacks, saying it appears to be less secure, more public and too condensed. "Teenagers like to talk, and 140 characters is just not enough," she said. Facebook "does everything Twitter offers, only it's better. It would be like going backwards."

The Pew findings are consistent with those of Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University. In a study of 1,115 college freshmen, done less than a year ago, she found that 85 percent of those surveyed had never used Twitter, 10 percent used it once and did not go back and 4 percent were using it regularly. "They're more interested in friends and not keeping in touch with the world more broadly," she says.

Lynn Schofield Clark, a researcher at the University of Denver, says the finding about few teens on Twitter may be surprising to adults who assume that teens are always seeking the spotlight. But she notes that teens have become more wary of revealing too much, and "Twitter seems to take away the control they want."

"There is a growing awareness of privacy levels," she said.

The report showed that social networking is more popular than ever among teens, used by 73 percent of those ages 12 to 17. That's a big jump from recent years, with 55 percent using social networking sites in November 2006 and 65 percent using them in February 2008.

"It is steadily climbing," says Amanda Lenhart, the lead writer of the Pew report. "This is a very important way to manage your social life."

Still, one form of teen connectivity was down: blogging.

Just 14 percent of teens said they blogged in 2009, compared with 28 percent in 2006. That's a nearly 50 percent slip in three years, at a time when overall adult blogging has remained steady. Older adults are blogging more than before, while younger adults are blogging less.

Researchers say the decline is probably a reflection of the move away from MySpace, with its blogging feature, to Facebook, with its status updates and other postings.

Victoria Kelley, 17, of North Potomac says that some of her friends blog, but fewer than before, partly because "maybe teenagers want more instant feedback from their friends." Kelley says she blogged briefly a couple of years ago on LiveJournal.com, but found that "it takes so long to think about something interesting to write" and that daily life can sometimes be as ordinary as: "I went to school today, I did homework, I went to bed."


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