— By Matt Ford
The social network is gaining credibility among students, who are relying on it increasingly for news updates
A study at the University of Maryland showed more than half of college students are using Twitter to get a significant proportion of their news.
92 percent of students surveyed by Maryland seniors Danielle Chazen and Matt Ford said Twitter is an “important tool for news consumers and journalists.” 51 percent reported they use Twitter as a primary news source.
One respondent put it simply: “[Twitter] is important because it is how news breaks today.”
Twitter on the rise; mostly for social reasons and news updates
Twitter, launched in July 2006, is host to tens of millions of users worldwide, who churn out about 65 million posts a day.
But its role in journalism, and in the lives of young users, is still up for debate.
Of 89 subjects, 76 percent said they used Twitter. According to the Maryland study, more people – about a third of the sample – obtained Twitter accounts to “experiment with a social network” instead of for school, work or social reasons.
But 92 percent of those surveyed said they now use it for social reasons. 86 percent use it to follow news.
Because Twitter disseminates news so quickly, several respondents said it can be a valuable voice box for news outlets.
“This tool is incredibly important because it is the quickest way to get news to the public,” one subject said. “Although [Twitter] may take away from newspapers, it is important that information gets to people as quickly as possible and Twitter does this.”
But Twitter users log on for more than news updates.
“Twitter allows me to stay updated on what’s going on with my friends and in the news,” one respondent said.
The students surveyed seemed to agree. 92 percent said they followed their friends on Twitter; 86 percent said they follow news outlets. Reporters and musicians were the next most popular Tweeters, tracked by 69 percent of students.
At the lower end of the spectrum, only 24 percent followed professors, 28 percent said they read politicians, and 54 percent said they followed athletes.
More users choose to follow instead of post
Most students have a passive role on Twitter, choosing to follow others instead of posting much on their own. 83 percent reported that following others is the primary reason they use Twitter instead of posting for their readers.
“I don’t see the point,” one respondent said of posting Tweets. “[I]t seems like Facebook stripped down to status updates. Most people are tweeting pointless drivel.”
Another student said posting did not make sense for most Twitter users.
“Companies can use it wisely, but I don’t understand why a singular person would have one,” they said.
Twitter used as quick, personalized news feed
Several respondents said they used Twitter primarily to organize their daily news intake.
“I don’t have to search multiple sites for my news,” one subject said. “I follow my [T]witter feed and everything is sent to a single source, often from direct sources.”
“I use Twitter more as an RSS feed than anything else,” one person said.
Several others commented on the usefulness of having one destination for personalized news.
“I feel it’s important for quick and current news,” another subject said.
“Twitter allows me to select what type of information I care about instead of going to websites and searching for it.”
Twitter is useful, but is it relevant? Students are split
While a majority of students agreed that Twitter could be important for their careers, there was a split in whether or not the social network is really necessary.
An overwhelming amount of students – 92 percent – said understanding Twitter was important for school and work reasons. Yet only 49 percent agreed that Twitter is a “necessary tool in the workplace and classroom.”
Some respondents extolled the virtues of having a respectable Twitter feed so as to get noticed by employers.
“The tool is very important to me,” one person said. “Because of my strong presence on Twitter, I have started blogging for a few websites, I’ve gotten my name out there, and, on a different note, I just really love getting my news that way.”
Others did not find Twitter as useful.
“[Twitter] is not important in my life,” one respondent said. “I use it mostly to follow celebrities and news outlets and only check it when I’m bored in class. When I tweet its [sic] to my friends and it is usually just nonsense so it does not affect my life.”
Some respondents still felt unsure about the role of Twitter five years after its creation.
“It is important, but I still have a lot to learn,” one student said. “I have not gotten to the point where it affects aspects of my life, but I plan on learning more about it and using it more.”