What's App? Everything You Need to Know About Twitter

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Staying on top of technology, especially when an age group as fickle as teens is steering the ship, can be an almost impossible task. As soon as you get the hang of Facebook, along come snaps and latergrams and a million little things that you’ve never heard of. To help you stay on top of it all, we’ve created our "What's App?" feature: A basic field guide to the apps your teens are glued to. To start, let’s take a look at Twitter, a social media powerhouse and one of Facebook’s main competitors for your teens' attention.

So… what is it? First and foremost, it’s a social media platform. Users can open a free account and post 140-character-or-less status updates (“tweets”). Tweets are often used to start conversations with other (particularly brands or celebrities).

Are there “friends”? You can “follow” another user and their tweets will show up in your feed, but there’s no “friending.” Some accounts are private, meaning that the user needs to approve you before you can read their tweets.

Who’s using it? Anyone can make an account, and Twitter is a pretty equal mix of personal accounts, celebrities, brands, and joke accounts. To sort out which celebs are real, Twitter “verifies” certain accounts with a little blue check next to their handle.

…Handle? That’s the term for someone’s Twitter account name. Handles are preceded by an @ symbol.

What are these hashtag thingies? The # symbol was originally used to categorize tweets and determine what topics are “trending.” It still is used for those things, but think of it as more of a way to join a conversation. When you include #RoyalBabyWatch or #VMAs or #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen in a tweet, you’re adding yourself to the results of anyone who may search by that topic and throwing in your two cents. Many companies, brands, or events (like awards shows), will create unique hashtags to build and track buzz around their product.

So how do you interact with other people? Well, you have 5 options:

1. You can just read their tweets. This is a popular option, and most of what makes Twitter, well… Twitter. It’s a feed of headlines that you’ve curated for yourself, so passively reading them (and not tweeting yourself) isn’t frowned upon.

2. You can Retweet them (sometimes abbreviated as RT). This means that you take their tweet and re-send it from your account. They still get the credit and it appears as theirs, but it appears in the feed of all of your followers, making their audience larger.

3. You can favorite their tweet. The user will be alerted that you’ve favorited it, but your followers won’t be. It’s kind of like telling the person that you like their tweet, because it doesn’t boost their popularity or presence. It’s just props.

4. You can tweet at them. This is just by including @[their handle] in one of your tweets. This is part of what makes Twitter so popular among teens, as it’s incredibly easy to tweet at a celebrity (and for them to see, and sometimes even respond to, that tweet). It sort of breaks the fourth wall between real people and celebs or brands, because you’re not only interacting with these big names, but you’re doing it in a public forum.

5. You can Direct Message (DM) someone. This basically sends a private tweet to that user (if they already follow you). Since so much of Twitter’s popularity is based on visibility and publicity, this isn’t a hugely important feature, especially for teens.

Is it safe? As far as apps and platforms go, Twitter is far from the creepiest – but there’s always trouble on the Internet if you’re looking for it. Of course, tweeting personal information (like where you are, your age, when your parents are out of town and where you keep the spare key) is always a bad idea. Users can choose to make their account private, so they have to approve anyone who wants to follow them and read their tweets, but that’s not much of a safeguard (especially considering the leniency with which we choose our online “friends” these days). And if you tweet publicly, that’s where things can get sticky. Public tweets scar the internet and can always be found, even if they’re later deleted. Even if they’re immediately deleted. A lot of teens, and even plenty of adults, don’t take the time to consider their public image and how that can be molded by 140 characters. Bottom line: Think before you tweet.