College students don’t need statistics to tell them where their friends spend their free time — they’re already there, too.
“I joined Twitter because everyone else was doing it,” said Anthony Michael, 18, a freshman at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA).
A recent survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, found that 83% of Internet users ages 18 to 29 use social media. In interviews, students told USA TODAY College they use social media for more than just following their friends, placing personal-brand building and keeping up with the news among their top reasons for logging on.
“There are different social media outlets for different purposes,” said Ayesha Zahid, 20, a senior at UTPA. “Tumblr doesn’t require a lot of personal information from you to get an account, so it’s famous for rants. And privacy settings in Facebook make networking hard. But my Twitter is open to the public because I want people to interact with me.”
The Pew survey also found that Twitter is more popular among younger, urban users. Maryann Slater, a 19-year-old sophomore at Rutgers University, said that’s because students get their news in tweets.
“I don’t really watch the news on TV,” she said. “When there was the gas shortage in New Jersey, that was how I first found out about it. The governor’s (Gov. Chris Christie’s) Twitter posted updates, like whether it was an even or odd license day.”
Slater said she and her friends take their personal lives to Facebook instead of Twitter because of its enhanced privacy settings.
“I’m never going to post a picture of me near alcohol (on Facebook), but I will post pictures of me going out with friends,” Slater said. “I’m not sure where the privacy line is drawn but there definitely is one.”
Twitter users can set their accounts to private. Dylan Kickham, 22, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, recently switched his from private to public.
“I used to use it mostly as a way to talk to my friends, which is why I decided to go private in the first place,” Kickham said. “I’m not tweeting about my personal life anymore and instead just funny commentary on current events.”
Kickham aspires to be a comedy writer and uses Twitter as a way to test out his material. Unlike Slater, Kickham only follows people he knows, people he thinks are funny and celebrities.
“There’s a lot of power you can have depending on how you use social media,” he said.
Other students, such as Matthew Madden, 20, are happy to keep their thoughts private on Twitter. Madden, a junior at the University of Michigan who locks his account, was not the only one to say his peers often share much more than they should.
“You see people more so on Facebook than Twitter pouring out all their emotions,” Madden said. “It’s less risky to be judged when you broadcast it out to a whole network of people, because it’s easier to share on a computer than face-to-face.”
Slater and Kickham said the danger in Twitter, however, is the instantaneous blurb that students think “not too many people will see.” Michael, a YouTube video blogger, said students will do just about anything to get that coveted like or retweet.
“It’s a celebrity thing,” Michael said. “Everyone wants to get recognized. If you do something stupid, that is unfortunately something you will get recognized for.”
Turning to social media seeking validation, though, isn’t the way to establish healthy human connections, Slater said.
“If I have a problem with someone, I should be talking to them in person,” Slater said. “Instead you see a lot of people using the Web as a diary to vent or escape.”
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