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Tweeting Etiquette

A mobile phone displaying Twitter

Despite all the shortened words and slang seen on Twitter, it turns out that people follow many of the same communication etiquette rules on social media as they do in speech. When tweeters use hashtags — a practice that can enable messages to reach more people — they tend to be more formal and drop the use of abbreviations and emoticons. But when they use the @ symbol to address smaller audiences, they’re more likely to use nonstandard words such as “nah” or “cuz.” And when people write to someone from the same city, they are even more likely to use nonstandard language — often lingo that is specific to that geographical area.

Jacob Eisenstein, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, led a team that sifted through three years of tweets — a pool that included 114 million geotagged messages from 2.77 million users. He says the study, published in the journal American Speech, helps explain a puzzle about language in social media.

“Since social media facilitates conversations between people all over the world, we were curious why we still see such a remarkable degree of geographical differentiation in online language,” Eisenstein said. “Our research shows that the most geographically differentiated language is more likely to be used in messages that will reach only a local audience and, therefore, will be less likely to spread to other locations.”

For example, while the emoticon “:)” is used everywhere, the alternative “;o” is significantly more popular in Los Angeles.

“People want to show their regional identity or their tech savviness, using Twitter-specific terms, to their close social network ties,” said Umashanthi Pavalanathan, a Georgia Tech graduate research scientist who worked on the study.​ 

— Jason Maderer

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