March 7, 2013
Twitterers Have No Right Speaking For The General Public
You’ll see it in just about every article that touches on public opinion.
Journos have taken to using Twitter to source public opinion from people whose thoughts they never would have cared about otherwise. After all, it’s free, it’s public, and it’s easy. Just enter the correct search parameters into your favorite client, copy and paste (but be sure to give proper attribution to @FavoriteSportsTeamIrrelevantNumbers) and your article is now complete with public opinion.
For those writers who need to get an article out quickly, Twitter is a gift from above. Yet, the Pew Research Center began to wonder if Twitter is an accurate gauge of public opinion, or if it’s only an accurate gauge of people who use Twitter. In other words, Twitter may be by the people, but is it representative of the people? The Pew survey studied the varied reactions during the 2012 presidential campaigns and found that a Twitterer’s reaction wasn’t always the same as some regular old Jane or Joe’s reaction.
Suffice to say, (and to avoid any semblance of political dialogue) certain people are more inclined to use Twitter than others, and when opinions are sourced from the microblogging site, these opinions are generally one sided. Political leanings aside, the Pew Research Center confirmed that Twitter is a place for snark, sarcasm and general negativity.
I say “confirmed,” of course, because any loyal Twitter user already knows this.
While there are those Twitter users who frequently tweet about how delicious their morning coffee tasted and about the beautiful blue sky above, these users are few and far between. Additionally, I have to wonder if these users aren’t more at home on Facebook or Pinterest.
No, Twitter is a place for passive-aggressive comments that users would likely never say to another human being. It’s a sounding board for the sullen, a place where cynicism is damn near celebrated. This is precisely why businesses have begun hiring out entire teams to keep an eye on Twitter for any ill-will being wished upon their brand.
We’ve seen it a million times: If a customer has a bad experience at X Hotel chain AND has a Twitter account, that customer will begin spouting all sorts of malice against the Hotel until they are appeased or, at the very least, recognized.
Finally, since Twitter is an on-going stream of blurbs and quips from just anyone, (especially people who have no right issuing statement on what they’re opining) Twitter can easily be twisted to fit any context.
In other words, I could search Twitter now to find Tweets from people completely opposed to Twitter. Stocking my article with these Tweets might leave the reader to believe that either the general public has been turned off Twitter or, at best, that I have a giant chip on my shoulder about the entire thing.
Conversely, I could also find many quotes about how Twitter is a great service and a great resource for small business. Granted, writers have been doing this even before the Internet, but with Twitter it becomes all the easier, and as a reader, it simply feels lazy.
To be fair, (and to peel back the curtain a bit) I often try to steer away from sourcing quotes from Twitter. It doesn’t stop me, however, and anytime I do take quotes from Twitter users, it’s purely to point out the inanity of it all. I usually look to Twitter when sites and services take a nose dive and look for Tweets which look something like “OMG FACEBOOK IS DOWN NOW WHAT AM I SUPOSED 2 DO HALP #FACEBOOKISDOWN.”
And that’s purely for your entertainment.
Thanks to Pew, we now know that any quote taken from Twitter is probably out of line with public opinion. Maybe (hopefully) this will cause some writers to think twice before looking to their Twitter feed for statements.
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