Twitter not representative

Miles Godfrey from AAP at Stuff reports:

If you’ve ever viewed as a gauge of public opinion, a weathervane marking the mood of the masses, you are very much mistaken.

That is the rather surprising finding of a new US study, which suggests the microblog zeitgeist differs markedly from mainstream public opinion.

“Twitter users are not representative of the public,” Washington DC think tank, Pew Research Center, concluded.

Experts in Australia, where Twitter comment is regularly used in media reaction to major new stories or a method of interaction for television programs, agreed with the US findings.

“While Twitter can give you a good idea of the extremes of how people feel about certain topics, when it comes to measuring opinion of the general public about major issues, it’s pretty useless,” Laura Demasi, of marketing firm IPSOS Australia, told AAP.

Pew Research’s study examined eight major US news events, including November’s presidential election, and compared views expressed on Twitter with national polling. …

The study highlighted a decision made in California’s Federal Court which ruled that laws barring same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

Almost half of the Twitter conversations about the verdict were positive, eight per cent were negative and 46 per cent were neutral.

But wider public opinion on the decision was more mixed – with 33 per cent saying it was a positive ruling, 44 per cent negative and 15 per cent neutral.

The reason, Pew Research Center says, is that only a “narrow sliver” of the population use Twitter.

A recent study by French social media analysts Semiocast showed there were 140 million Twitter accounts in the US – more than one third of the population.

But users tend to be younger and lean more toward the political left than right, the study said.

This story is a useful reminder, with relevance in NZ.

I enjoy Twitter, and you get some great humour there. But it is not a proxy for the overall population.

It’s one thing to take a few quotes from Twitter, but media should be careful about generalisations such as saying “The decision was heavily criticised on Twitter”.

The other area media should be careful about, is choosing whom to quote. I recall one episode of Seven Sharp where the tweep they quoted on a Christchurch issue was the local campaign chair for Labour. Of course, there was no mention of that.

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