What It Is:
Twitter is a “microblogging” service that allows users to express thoughts in short bursts called “tweets” limited to 140 characters or less. Users can also upload photos and/or short, looping videos (called “Vines”) to their account. Twitter can also transmit links to other websites.

app-twitterIn addition to using Twitter as a platform for expressing their own thoughts/information, users can “follow” other Twitter users to create a “feed” (also known as a “timeline”) that consists of a real-time list of the tweets of all those people the user follows.

What It Does:
Twitter connects users to their followers and allows for dialogue between them. Twitter also often serves as a running commentary on shared events like awards shows or sporting events, allowing users to read the thoughts of others relating to the event and make their own comments. Twitter is also frequently used by reporters and journalists either to break news or to immediately gauge the popular reaction to a particular story.

Another aspect of Twitter is the “hashtag,” which makes certain terms searchable within the Twitter network simply by putting a hash mark (#) in front of them. If enough people use a specific hashtag, then that term can start “trending” on Twitter, bringing it to the top of Twitter’s search function. Many users search hashtags to see what people on Twitter are talking about so they, too, can “join the conversation.”

Would My Child Want It?:
When Twitter first appeared, many teenagers were early adopters of the service, though it seems to have become more popular among college students and young adults and less so among kids and teenagers (who are now tending to prefer Instagram and Tumblr, though they often connect those accounts with their Twitter account for cross-platform presentation). Twitter is also only for users age 13 and up.

Where Can It Be Used?:
Twitter can be used on anything that can browse the internet. Additionally, Twitter-specific apps are available for computers and mobile devices.

What Should I Watch Out For?:

  • Your Twitter feed is visible to anyone, meaning anyone can read your tweets and/or follow you, unless you make your account private.
  • Any Twitter user can send you public messages (called “at-replies”), while users you follow can send you private direct messages.
  • There is no content filter on Twitter, so inappropriate language, hate speech, images, videos, and links to inappropriate websites are all fair game in the Twitterverse.
  • There are countless “bots” on Twitter, accounts that do not represent actual people but instead are programs that scour the service for keywords and then tweet at-replies to people who use those keywords in order to “spam” them.
  • Twitter is a booming business, but since it is a fee-free service, the company harvests all the data for multiple purposes. Additionally, all tweets are stored for posterity in the Library of Congress.
  • Twitter also makes money by selling ad space which it calls “sponsored tweets.” These might show up in your timeline unannounced advertising things that you may not want to see.
  • Twitter apps allow for back-door access to the internet.

What Are The Positives?:

  • Twitter allows for instant communication with a (feasible) worldwide audience.
  • Provided one follows verified accounts, Twitter is a great way to gather news about breaking stories. Often, news breaks on Twitter before it breaks anywhere else.
  • Twitter is a dynamic joke-delivery system.
  • Twitter can often foster open dialogue about complex subjects; since the character limit forces brevity, it can often cause you to focus on the core basics of a subject instead of getting sidetracked by tangents.
  • Users have the ability to block communication from unwanted followers.

What Are The Negatives?:

  • Since there are no content restrictions, one can be exposed fairly easily to unsavory content, including explicit pornography.
  • Bullying is also fairly easily accomplished.
  • Since Twitter apps provide a back door to the internet, users can often get around browser-specific accountability software or filters.

What We Think:
Twitter is an extremely useful and rich resource when used properly and with discernment. If you decide to let your child use Twitter, we recommend that you make their accounts private and that you also use the service yourself so you can monitor the interactions they might have. You should also know all their usernames/passwords so you that you can check their account whenever you feel the need to. Know who your kids follow and who follows your kids, and since there is back-door internet access through Twitter apps, don’t let them use those on their mobile devices.