March 18, 2013

Twitter And Reality

"Twitter is the new AP, I like to say, a place where journalists often break news, even before feeding it to their employers." Howard Kurtz - CNN Opinion

"...the number of Washington and New York journalists now using Twitter... is increasing exponentially." Toby Harndon - The Telegraph
One of the startling things about Twitter is not that average idiots like you and me use it, but that serious people use it -- and take it seriously.

For some reason, this seems to be particularly true in journalism where Twittermania seems to be epidemic.

One of the arguments made in defense of Twitter as a legitimate journalistic tool is that by following Twitter you can get a good idea of what the common folk and your peers are thinking and saying. The thought is that Twitter is a reliable reflection of popular sentiment.

Not so, says to the Pew Research Center. According to a year-long study they did...
"The reaction on Twitter to major political events and policy decisions often differs a great deal from public opinion... At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative."
Why are Twitter reactions and Twitter trending not good indications of true public sentiment? According to Pew...
  • just 13% of adults said they ever use Twitter or read Twitter messages
  • only 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news or news headlines on Twitter.
  • Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public. 
  • Twitter users are more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party.
Some examples of how Twitter sentiment is often way out of line with public sentiment:
  • While  48% of public opinion was positive on Obama's second inaugural speech, only 13% of Twitter sentiment was positive.
  • On the other hand, while 52% of the public was positive about Obama's election, 77% of Twitter reaction was positive.
  • In the first presidential debate, while only 20% of the public thought Obama did a better job than Romney, 59% of tweets thought he did.
  • Obama's State of the Union address in January was viewed positively by 42% of the public. But only 21% of tweets were positive.
Twitter is a very unreliable gauge of public sentiment. When you hear pundits bloviating about how it is representative of this or that, pay no attention.

Twitter is a fun way for morons like us to share inanities about our pathetic lives. Nothing more and nothing less.


Keith Marshall said...

Twitter is a fun way for morons like us to share inanities about our pathetic lives. Nothing more and nothing less. --> That's what it was set up to do, to be - a microblog. I don't even use it for that.

Kyle Duszynski said...

Playing devil's advocate here...what sample was used to generate"public opinion" numbers? My guess is it's people with land lines that are willing to answer survey questions, which in itself is a skewed demo. My point is neither Twitter nor telephone polls are a great basis for "public opinion" and both will be skewed to the demographic of the medium.

Andrew Bent said...

I like Vinny Warren's take on Twitter:

"Twits are the worker bees of the internet."