Meh: New Claims That Teens Don’t Tweet Don’t Add Up

Duncan Riley - Author

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 9:49 p.m. ET

The whole teens don’t tweet circus is back in town with a new survey finding that teens aren’t using Twitter at similar rates to those 18 and over.

The survey by Pew Internet of 800 “teens” (we’ll get to the definition problem in a moment) found that overall only 8% of them used Twitter, a figure used by some other sites to suggest that “teens don’t tweet.”

I could wax lyrical about the true fairness in a sample size of 800 teens drawn at random, but there are other more interesting points in the study that question the contention that “teens don’t tweet.”

First a basic point: the report doesn’t say teens don’t Tweet, what it states in the summary is that “Teens are not using Twitter in large numbers.” That’s different to them not tweeting, but semantics to be sure.

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But how does one define a teen? I was always led to believe that a teen is a definition based on the English pronunciation of their age. A nineteen year old is a teen by virtue that nineteen has teen in it. A twelve year old is not a teen because twelve lacks teen. Wikipedia backs this up here, although notes that 18-19 year olds may also be considered a “young adult” at the same time as being considered a teen.

Somehow though this definition is lost in the study, with Pew revising what is accepted as normal and defining a teen as being between the age of 12-17; that is, they are counting 12 year olds who aren’t teens, and not counting 18 and 19 year olds who are.

But to draw a conclusion that 8% for 12-17 year olds could be considered “teens don’t tweet,” you need to do a side by side comparison to the 18+ use rate. In one example, Ben Parr at Mashable cherry picks the stats when he writes “As we’ve reported on multiple occasions, teens don’t tweet, and Pew’s numbers don’t disagree with that assertion,” but ignores the 18+ use rates.

How many people aged 18 and above use Twitter? According to Pew, 19%. Parr also claims that teens don’t blog either based on a figure of 14%, which begs the question: where do we draw the line between do not use and do use?

But the figures get weirder. Pew notes that girls 14-17 have a Twitter use rate of 13%, and the figures soar once you get into their “young adults category.”

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Young adults lead the way when it comes to using Twitter or status updating. One-third of online 18-29 year olds post or read status updates.

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If we know that Twitter use grows from 14 up, then soars as you pass 17, why would you exclude teens aged 18-19 from the teen figures? We also know that the overall 18 and above use figure of 19% is slanted by a use rate of 33% among 18-29 year olds; that is to say that excluding the 18-29 year old age group, the 30 and above figure would be lower than 19%. Would that mean that non-young adults are not using Twitter as well?

As I wrote in August 2009 when this last came up with a different survey: teens do tweet, even if younger teens don’t tweet in as higher numbers as older people. All we see here is that younger teens don’t tweet much, but as they get older the figure grows as they approach 18. Between 18-19 we don’t know what the rate is because Pew has taken upon itself to redefine teens, and the raw data is seemingly unavailable; the “adult” data comes from ” Princeton Survey Research Associates International” and I’m unable to find a copy of that report.

Although I have some issues with Pew here, in their defense they aren’t claiming that teens don’t tweet, other sites are. The teens don’t tweet claim is disingenuous and not supported by even the most basic fact checking. Teens do tweet, end of story.


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