So, what is a tweet?

What Parents need to know about Twitter

By Kids Privacy

Twitter is different from other social networks. Twitter is about spreading information fast and far.  What you say on Twitter may be viewed and shared all around the world instantly. Before the first tweet, kids and parents need to understand that Twitter is a public forum and how to use available privacy controls.

Does Twitter require users to be at least 13 years old?

Yes. Although Twitter does not ask for a birthdate, its Terms of Service does state “Twitter is not for children under the age of 13.”  Data collected from children under 13 must comply with COPPA, the Children Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) enforces COPPA and has more information on the importance of protecting children’s data.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blog. Unlike a blog where a post can be any length, Twitter only allows “tweets” or messages up to 140 characters. When kids post a tweet, it immediately appears on their home page, on their followers’ pages, and can be searched on Twitter. Kids can choose to follow anyone and anyone can follow them. Twitter does have protected accounts, but most users opt for public accounts.

What is a tweet?

Tweets are messages that can be anything from a comment about a favorite TV show to sharing a video. Since tweets are limited to 140 characters, they utilize a lot of symbols and abbreviations. A basic tweet looks like this:

What is retweeting?

Twitter encourages quick social interaction. When kids click “Retweet”, the tweet is sent to their followers and those followers can retweet to their followers and so on… Retweeting can spread information fast and far.

Is it just text?

Kids can click on the camera icon to add pictures to their tweets. (The compass icon is for adding location). Kids can also use apps such as Twitpic, Instagram, Twitvid and Yfrog to upload photos or videos and publish them in their tweets.

Can tweets be deleted?

Tweets cannot be edited but can be deleted. However, kids should not rely on deleting a tweet to completely stop the flow of information. A deleted tweet may already have been retweeted or saved with a screen capture.

What information is in a twitter profile?

A Twitter account contains username, password, and email address. Only the username is public. If they choose, kids can provide additional public information, such as a 160 character biography, location, or a picture. Twitter does not require real names. Many people tweet under an alias and use an avatar for a profile picture.

What is a follower?

Kids can choose to follow other people on Twitter. Kids can follow their favorite celebrities, TV show or friends. Following someone means the person’s tweets appear on their home page.

Kids will also have people who choose to follow them.  Anyone who wants to follow them can. People who are following them will see their tweets and can send them a direct message which is a personal message. Kids may find people they have never heard of following them.  If kids are uncomfortable with this, they can choose to block a follower.

How about unfollowing someone?

With a click of a button, kids can easily stop following someone. By clicking on “Following”, the option will change to “Unfollow.” If kids choose to unfollow someone, the other person will not be notified. Unfollowing does not have the same stigma as unfriending. Kids should review and edit their followers list regularly.

How about removing a follower?

It is a little harder to stop someone from following. By default anyone can choose to follow anyone. Kids can choose to block an unwanted follower. To block a Twitter user, kids should locate them on their followers list and click to the right of the “Following” button. They will see a drop down menu where they can choose to block the person.

Once a person is blocked, kids will not see the person’s tweets on their home page and the person cannot see their tweets. However if their account is not protected, the person can still see their public profile page.

What if a follower has a questionable profile?

Occasionally, kids may have a follower appear with a profile full of profanity or sexual innuendo. Twitter does not actively monitor content nor does it remove potentially offensive content. Parents should talk to their kids about what to do if a follower appears with a questionable profile.

Usually, these types of followers will just disappear if kids do not follow them.  If not, kids can block this person. If the profile does contain a link, kids should not click on it.  These links can lead to a website containing a virus, pornography, or other inappropriate material.

Can kids limit who sees their twitter feed?

Public information includes not only tweets but lists kids create, people they follow, favorite tweets, and retweets. The only way to make tweets less visible is to choose the protected setting. With twitter, it is best to assume all information is public.

What is a protected account?

When kids sign up for Twitter they can choose to “Protect my tweets” in the account settings. If kids choose this option, they will be able to approve followers and their tweets are visible only to these followers.  Also, their tweets cannot be retweeted and will not appear in Twitter search.

If later they decide to change their setting back to public, kids just need to un-check the box. Kids should remember tweets posted while the profile was private will remain private indefinitely, and tweets posted while the account was public will remain public indefinitely.

Most kids will probably want to utilize the “Protect my tweets” option.  Kids can still follow anyone but will have more control over who sees their information and messages. If they choose a public account, they need to remember everyone can see their tweets, anyone can retweet and anyone can follow them.

What if they want to tweet on a mobile phone?

Twitter is made for mobile phones. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters allows messages to be sent via text messaging. Kids can add their mobile number to their account under Mobile Settings in their Settings menu. Kids can text tweets as well as choose other notifications they wish to receive via text. Before enabling all these options, kids should be on an unlimited texting plan otherwise parents could see a huge increase in their phone bill.

If they have a smartphone, kids can download a Twitter app and avoid text charges. Twitter has a free app for both Apple and Android phones.

Tweets from a mobile phone can include location information. Twitter has this option turned off. Location information will not be included unless kids select this feature.

How do kids sign up?

Kids should be over 13 and have an email account. When kids join Twitter they will be asked for a username. They can choose their own name or a made up name. Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not require real names. Many profiles use aliases and nicknames.  For their profile picture, kids can choose to use an avatar instead of a real photo.

Can they delete their  account and start over?

Kids can permanently delete their Twitter account. First, they will need to deactivate their account. To deactivate, go to account settings and click on “Deactivate my account” at the very bottom.

After choosing this option, kids will receive a warning from Twitter. Twitter does not remove their information right away. Kids must wait 30 days before Twitter will delete their account.

Can parents delete a child’s account?

Yes. If a child under the age of 13 has provided Twitter with personal information without a parent’s consent, Twitter can remove the information and terminate the account. Parents can email to find out how.

Need more information? Check out Twitter’s Help Center