Twitter Does Not Represent Public Opinion

PewA report from the Pew Research Center landed on the internet this week and is telling Twitter users that we are not representative of public opinion. Well, duh? I hope that the report did not cost too much to produce. It’s still nice to have some hard numbers though…

The report, Twitter Reaction to Events Often at Odds with Overall Public Opinion, was posted March 4 and focused on sentiment gathered running up to the 2012 Presidential election. The main thrust of the presented data is that Twitter users tend to lean towards more Democratic versus Republican opinions, skewing the resulting data when compared to the sampled public.

The report cites several reasons for the data including Twitter’s:

  • younger, international demographic;
  • lack of mainstream use (only 13% of adults said they ever used Twitter);
  • and the user’s selective nature regarding news topics that they discuss.

This really goes to the heart of sampling. When you know the demographic of a sample and compare it with another, different sample, then of course the data will not match up. However it also teaches a great lesson to those of us on these social media platforms: for all of the time and energy we put into our posts and profiles, we are a collective few moving through the Web in newly formed cliques.

It’s important to remember that as we type our missives, posting our inner most thoughts, recapping our days, that there is a world outside of our doors, beyond our mobile, glass screens that far exceeds our online community.

In the grand scheme of things, our online presence is a blip on the screen of the natural world, where the majority of civilization exists. The dream of bringing everyone online is still attainable however when it occurs we will be so dispersed by competing platforms that many of us will plug in yet never connect. The search for a global community without walls may just be a pipe dream. Borders will still exist in this virtual community; they’re just delineated by brand and app loyalty rather than national pride.


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