People Tweet More Egocentrically From Their Phones


As anyone who tweets a lot can tell you, there are different styles of tweeting. At one end of the spectrum is the careful, deliberate, I’m-gonna-try-to-make-a-deep-point tweet; at the other is the I-just-saw-this-funny-thing-I-wanna-share tweet; and then there’s everything in the middle. For a recent study in the Journal of Communication, a team led by Dhiraj Murthy at Goldsmiths, University of London, analyzed 235 million tweets they collected in the summer of 2013 to test a bunch of hypotheses about the ways tweeting while sitting down at a computer might differ from phone tweeting — either because of the context or because of the sort of person attracted to each type of tweeting.

Here’s what they found, with the important stuff bolded by me:

Ultimately, we found that mobile tweets are not only more egocentric in language than any other group, but that the ratio of egocentric to nonegocentric tweets is consistently greater for mobile tweets than from nonmobile sources. We did not find that mobile tweets were particularly gendered. Regardless of platform, tweets tended to employ words traditionally associated as masculine. We did find that negative language is used more frequently by mobile users at any point in time, a finding that would benefit from further research. The ratio of negative to positive unigrams was also found to be consistently greater for mobile tweets than web tweets. Lastly, we did not find that mobile-based tweets are more agentic than web-based tweets. Rather, both platforms tended to employ language that was associated with communal behaviors.

On the egocentricity front, the researchers’ theory is that the “inherently personal nature of mobile devices” primes people to think in egocentric terms when tweeting from their phones, whereas web tweeting offers more chances for non-self-related stuff to creep in. As for the negativity finding, the idea is that phone tweets are more likely to be sparked by in-the-moment sentiments, which, due to humans’ well-known “negativity bias,” are more likely to be negative than positive. Web tweeting, again, is a more deliberate style, and one less likely to produce tweets simply reflecting how a user feels at that very moment.

As for why Twitter inevitably turns us all into jerks, that pressing research question will have to wait for another day.