Intelligence

After Parkland High School Shooting, Gen Z Turns to Twitter

Elizabeth “Biz” Cozine

Senior Account Executive

Today and tomorrow, we’re publishing two posts on Gen Z and social media. Today’s post from Biz Cozine focuses on Gen Z’s use of Twitter as a networking and advocacy tool following the Parkland shooting.

We hear it every year—“Twitter is dead.” And at first glance, it is. The social network has 330 million active monthly users, but pales in comparison to platforms like Instagram and Facebook, with 800 million and 2.2 billion monthly active users, respectively. It also reported a zero percent increase in followers during Q4 2017, and last July said its monthly user-base declined by 2 million in the US. Even anecdotally, we’re far more likely to hear new acquaintances exchange Instagram handles than Twitter handles.

So, that’s it, right? The demise is finally here.

Not so fast.

Despite the numbers, the social network has been the epicenter for communication following the Parkland shooting in February and the following March For Our Lives in March. Outspoken students like Emma González and David Hogg have relied on Twitter as their main method of public communication and virtual rallying in the wake of the massacre, coining hashtags like #BoycottFlorida and #neveragain, which has been turned into a support organization with its own account.

González started her account, @Emma4Change, four days after the Parkland shooting on February 14. She now has 1.56 million followers—almost twice as many as the NRA. Similarly, Hogg’s following shot up to 754K. What’s particularly interesting about González and Hogg isn’t just how successful they’ve been in communicating with others who support gun control; it’s how instrumental Twitter, specifically, has been to their cause.

Why Twitter? It’s a fascinating preference for González and Hogg, as well as many of their followers, whom we classify as “Generation Z” (people born in the mid ‘’90s through the mid 2000s). They were just 5- and 6-year-olds when the social network was created, and have spent their formative digital years with platforms like Snapchat, Musical.ly, and Instagram at the forefront of popularity.

And yet, their preference for Twitter seems an intentional and strategic choice. Hogg was recently asked by CNN’s Brian Stelter how he felt about the alt-right conspiracy theories surrounding his activism, calling out the success he’s had on Twitter explicitly.

“It’s great,” Hogg said in the interview. “It’s great advertising honestly…These people that have been attacking me on social media, they’ve been great advertisers. Ever since they started attacking me, my Twitter followers are now a quarter of a million people. People have continued to cover us in the media. They’ve done a great job of [promoting me,] and for that, I honestly thank them.”

Comparatively, the Parkland shooting advocates’ other social networks don’t see much traffic. González’s Facebook page doesn’t hold a flame to her 1 million-plus Twitter followers. A recent post had just 7.6K “likes.” Hogg doesn’t appear to have an official public Facebook page, though he called out an impersonator page on his Twitter account. Both students are also on Instagram, but don’t appear to use the app for advocacy the way they do with Twitter. Neither of them appear to have public Snapchat accounts.

According to a 2017 US survey by Statista, 79 percent of respondents ages 13 to 29 used Snapchat, followed by 76 percent on Facebook and 73 percent on Instagram. Twitter is fourth following the photo sharing app, but young peoples’ usage drops significantly to just 40 percent.

Although the channel is less popular among teens, González and Hogg seem to know their audience. A different Statista survey noted that 39 percent of Twitter users were between the ages of 30 and 59; and 16 percent were over 60—the ages of nearly everyone in governmental positions of power.

Furthermore, Twitter seems to be this administration’s preferred method of communication, and the final word for implementing policy like the recent steel and aluminum tariffs and the time he banned transgender people from the military via the outlet (yeah, remember that?). And that time that he threatened the Kremlin with missile attacks in Syria, and the Kremlin responded: “We don’t engage in Twitter diplomacy.”

Twitter: Great for catalyzing action and advocacy, not so great for global diplomacy. Still, a little birdy told us that Twitter is here for the long-haul.

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