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A new report from the Pew Research Center is almost certainly going to cause you to question your view of Twitter. Listen to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey talk, and you’d think that almost all U.S. adults are using the social media platform, and that tens of millions of everyday citizens are engaging in lively discourse and discussion across Twitter on a regular basis. But, in actuality, the top 10% of Twitter users account for 80% of all tweets. Outside of all the big-name influencers, celebrities, politicians and thought leaders on Twitter (i.e. the top 10%), the rest of the social media platform is strangely silent.
The most active Twitter users create 80% of the content
Just check out the numbers in the Pew report, and you’ll get a good idea of just how lopsided all the content creation is on Twitter. The median U.S. adult Twitter user sends out just two tweets a month. In contrast, the top 10% of Twitter users send out, on average, 138 tweets monthly. The top 10% of Twitter users are more likely to favorite content, and have much more extensive networks than everyone else.
Thus, on just about any topic, the views of the top Twitter users are going to drown out the views of the average Joe (or Joanne) on Main Street. That might be fine if you’re talking about sports or entertainment: a bunch of loudmouths can send out tweet storms about their favorite sports teams or about “Game of Thrones” and you can basically ignore them.
But what if we’re talking about politics, or some other topic that really matters? In that case, the whole idea of “de-platforming” people whose political views you don’t like (as Twitter is now doing with loud voices on the political right) is much more serious than you might suppose. There simply are not enough smaller voices to fill the void if a big-name personality is de-platformed off Twitter.
The political nature of Twitter
Interestingly, the Pew research study actually touched on the topic of politics. As Pew found out, Twitter users are more likely to identify as a Democratic voter than you’d expect if you selected a person at random from the U.S. adult population. Thus, by simple extrapolation, you’d expect to find more pro-Democratic content on Twitter than pro-Republican content. And, by matter of simple extrapolation, it’s not a stretch to say that you’d except to find more anti-Trump content than pro-Trump content on Twitter.
Of course, the Pew team didn’t ask directly about people’s choice of presidential candidate, but they did ask for views about several hot-button issues – such as immigration and racial issues – that tend to divide people along political lines. As might be expected, adult users on Twitter tend to have more liberal views when it comes to immigration and racial and gender issues. Interestingly, the Top 10% of users on Twitter tend to tweet a lot about politics, so it’s a good bet that your Twitter feed is probably overweight on liberal, Democratic views. Depending on where you stand politically, that’s either a good thing or a very bad thing.
What, exactly, is Twitter these days?
Parsing through all the numbers, it’s hard to determine what Twitter really is these days. It’s not a media company, even though Twitter has experimented with more video and entertainment content. It’s not a “public square” anymore, because only 10% of people are really doing all the talking on Twitter. Odds are, your neighbor next door is lucky to post 1-2 times per month, if he or she is even on Twitter. And Twitter is not even really a communication platform these days, because people have found other ways to chat, communicate and hang out.
Taking a big picture view of the Pew data, it’s perhaps easier to see why Twitter is having such a hard time re-inventing itself. The mainstream consensus has been that Twitter is a vast, sprawling public square full of lively discourse and passionate discussions. But peer under the hood, and you might walk away with a very different view of Twitter.