Today in Pew Research Center studies that prove the obvious*: Twitter is full of haters.
The survey tank’s latest findings sum up a year’s worth of comparisons between the reactions of the general public to breaking-news events and the tenor of the reactions on Twitter. The main takeaway isn’t surprising, but it’s worth noting nonetheless: As much as the media leans on Twitter as an instant public-opinion barometer, the microblogging site’s users really aren’t representative of the nation at large.
Twitter users skew young and left—they leaned hard toward Barack Obama during the election and for gay rights in California. But the most consistent bias that Pew found was not toward liberals or conservatives. It was a bias against, well, almost everything. For instance, the Twitterati were heavily against Obama’s nomination of John Kerry for Secretary of State, and they thought the president’s 2012 State of the Union speech was a stinker. (In both cases, Pew found the public as a whole generally supportive.) And while they evinced more hate for Romney than Obama overall, negative comments toward both “exceeded positive comments by a wide margin throughout the fall campaign season.” In Pew’s words:
At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative. Often it is the overall negativity that stands out.
Just something to remember in an age where the embedded tweet is fast replacing the man-on-the-street quote as the hurried reporter’s favorite crutch for conveying public reaction to a story. I’m not among those who think the change is all bad, though. Twitter reactions may be even less representative than those obtained when a reporter pounds the pavement, but at least they tend to be articulate.
*That’s not a criticism. As much as we may have already felt in our gut that Twitter is full of haters, it really is nice to have these things quantified sometimes (albeit with an ever-growing margin of error). And Pew’s reports offer a great excuse to take stock of societal trends that are hard to cover anecdotally without incurring the ire of my former Slate colleague, the great Jack Shafer. Of course, he might well hate this post anyway if he reads it. If so, I’m sure he’ll let me know via Twitter.