Most Twitter users are lurking, not posting

You’ve probably heard that social media is an echo chamber, but recent studies from Pew Research Center give a whole new meaning to the phrase: It turns out the loudest voices on the platform are lonelier out there than you might think.

According to Pew, about a quarter of U.S. adults—roughly 65 million people—use Twitter for myriad purposes: to stay in touch on news, sports, politics, and celebrity gossip. But of those 65 million users, it seems the vast majority are simply lurking. Pew’s analysis suggests a staggering 97% of tweet volume comes from the top 25% most active tweeters; meanwhile, the rest of the 75% altogether produce just 3% of the tweets in existence.

That may come as no surprise—it’s a familiar trend on social media that a relatively small share of super-active users create most of the posts. But for the absolute-most-frequent tweeters, things get even lonelier, because few people are even acknowledging the library of content they’re publishing. Posts from this group “receive little engagement from other users in the form of likes or retweets,” read Pew’s report. “Despite producing 65 tweets of any type [original, retweet, or reply] per month on average during the period under observation, U.S. adults in the top 25% of users based on tweet volume received an average of just 37 likes and one retweet per month.”

The strangeness of shouting into the void has diverse effects on social media users. The most prolific tweeters are more likely than others to say that the website has strengthened their politics in the past year, and are also twice as likely to say they’ve experienced harassment or abusive behavior on the platform. However, they’re also less likely to view the “overall tone or civility of discussions” as a major problem—which, as Pew Data Labs director Aaron Smith told MarketWatch, suggests they may let more borderline troubling behaviors roll off their back. “They will tell you they’re mostly there to speak their own minds,” Smith said.

Most of these users visit Twitter daily, and 20% log on “too many times to count.”

For the broader Twitter crowd—including those millions of lurkers—all that content has diverse effects as well. Nearly half, or 46% of all adult Twitter users said the website has increased their understanding of current events, including 62% of users aged 18 to 29. The greatest share of users (42%) say the number one reason they use the site is for entertainment, and the second-greatest share (20%) say it’s a way to stay informed.