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- A 34-year-old professor at Georgia Tech taught a course on “adulting” and found many of her students didn’t know how to use older social media platforms like Twitter.
- She started teaching her students how to use Twitter, including how to set up a profile, follow accounts, and respond to other users civilly.
- Less than a third of US teens use Twitter, a Pew survey found, compared to the roughly 70% that use Snapchat and Instagram.
Young people are the biggest users of social media in the US.
But that doesn’t mean they’re on the same platforms as the rest of the US population. And in some cases, they don’t even know how to use the social media platforms older people might be more familiar with.
Rebekah Fitzsimmons, and English professor at Georgia Tech, learned that the hard way in 2016 when she taught a class called “Adulting: Coming of Age in 21st Century America,” which looked at notions of adulthood throughout history.
While her course had students use historical texts and digital media to define what it meant to be an adult, Fitzsimmons hit a road block when she realized some of her students didn’t know the first thing about how to use Twitter.
That came as a surprise to the professor, whose students comprised the youngest members of the millennial generation.
“They tell us when you’re training to be a teacher, they’re like, ‘Oh, these are digital natives. These are students who grew up with computers in the hall and they know how to use this stuff,” Fitzsimmons told Business Insider. “But the first couple of semesters that I taught using Twitter, I got all kinds of people saying, ‘No, I’ve never opened Twitter before. I don’t really do social media.'”
“So I do think it’s one of those things, that we the older generation assume that they’re on social media all the time, but that’s not actually true. Or if they are on social media, it’s not necessarily the ones that the older generations are using.”
A Pew Research Center survey found last year that about 32% of American teens said they used Twitter. Meanwhile, 69% of teens said they used Snapchat and 71% said they used Instagram. Facebook, the most popular social media site overall, was used by just 51% of teens.
“I have gotten to a point where I don’t assume that they know anything about using social media,” Fitzsimmons, who at 34 is a millennial herself, said.
Eventually, Fitzsimmons said she started teaching her students how to use Twitter during class. In one course on rhetoric and composition, she showed students how to set up a Twitter account, choose a photo that won’t get them mistaken for a bot, and find accounts to follow that line up with their professional interests.
She also taught them what she called the “cultural norms” of Twitter – like how to reply to tweets and have conversations with other users “without pissing other people off.”
“When you do enter a conversation on Twitter, do it the same way you would if you were at a party and you happened to be sitting next to somebody at the the hors d’oeuvre table and you heard them talking,” Fitzsimmons said. “You wouldn’t just interrupt them and be like, ‘You’re totally wrong.’ You would say, ‘Well excuse me. I happened to hear and I was wondering if you could tell me more about this.'”
“So practicing those social niceties on Twitter, on Facebook, and any social media platform, makes it more useful and makes it more likely that people interact with you in a positive way.”