I WILL admit it I’ve got a problem. Like previous WalesHome authors some things get under my skin. It is true, amongst them are fire alarms that won’t just shut up. However, right now one of my biggest campaigning angst’s is people misreading Twitter.
No TV show or ‘what’s the reaction’ piece of print journalism seems complete without turning to twitter for comment. It’s a great way to test some of your audience’s reaction; and let’s face it some of these people are very funny. Caitlin Moran, I’m looking at you. Newspapers regularly feature a round-up of the funniest and most humorous tweets, but note how these always seem to come from tech literate, progressives. This is not a representative cross section of Britain as a society. If the twitter population views were reflective of the UK at large then the Daily Mail and Express would not continue to shift millions of copies a week.
It is this differential that rancours, people seem to confuse some of the audience with all of the audience. That means people confuse the reaction of twitter with one that is representative of the whole population. Unlike Facebook, demographic breakdowns of twitter users are hard to find. The former is manna from heaven to anthropologists who enjoy trawling their advertising sections to see just how many horse riding, poker playing 37 year old single women there are in Newport. The twitter breakdowns that are available are either old, or US based. However this limited evidence reaffirms the bias that those using twitter to those who are younger and progressive.
Just think about some of the big trending UK topics, that is most mentioned subjects on twitter, over the last year or two. If twitter represented the real world, Nick Clegg would have become Prime Minister, the yes campaign would have scored a victory in the AV referendum and any man who was not Justin Bieber and fancied pulling a lady would have give up long ago. Of course these issues all have one thing in common, they aren’t true.
Yet time and again people seem to confuse twitter with a representative sample of the public – it isn’t. Polling is a well regulated industry, and rightly so with the British Polling Council setting standards for how work must be undertaken for it to have statistical rigour. They’ve even gone on to produce a helpful guide on opinion polls for journalists, including how to assess the validity of polling. It is a guide that is well worth reading for those who are not members of the fourth estate but seek to understand public opinion too. If you gauge a reaction solely on twitter then those opinions face none of the checks and balances that polls do.
Of course twitter has many uses, it can be a great way to assess reaction amongst its limited audience, to engage with people having a conversation and generating buzz. I enjoy and gain great value from all of those things as do many campaigners, but I never let it mislead me into thinking it is reflective of the entire population. It can be a lot quicker, and in many cases funnier, to use twitter to get a reaction but it is no substitute for a representative sample when ascertaining public opinion.
This post was first published on Waleshome.