IF you’ve ever viewed Twitter 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 like the ABC’s Q&A, 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 two didn’t match.
“At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than the survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative,” the study said.
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.
Ms Demasi added: “Twitter penetration in Australia is not that big so while at times it seems like the whole country is talking about something, it’s really just 50 people and a few hundred or thousand who are listening in.”
Dr John Lenarcic, from Melbourne’s RMIT University, suggested Facebook may offer a more accurate view of public sentiment.
(Brian Cuban) Twitter has announced they will begin deleting tweets at the request of certain countries. This has caused an uproar from free speech advocates. In reality, it simply brings Twitter in line with other major social media sites whose content interacts with the borders and laws of other countries who may not view free expression the same way we do here in the United States.
Note that in my title I used the phrase, “Free Expression” instead of “free speech” or “freedom of speech.” I did this because there is a major difference in application. Whether Twitter does or does not censor content in this country is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment only applies to goverment restrictions on speech. Twitter is a private company and can restrict speech in any way it sees fit. It is frankly surprising that Twitter has taken so long to recognize that speech does not occur in social media in a “free expression vacuum”
Prior to this announcement and after, Twitter will continue to be the most liberal platform in terms of free expression. It has virtually no restrictions on speech in it’s Terms of Service. Users are allowed to be as racist, hateful and to a degree threatening as they like as long as the tweet does not constitute a “true threat” as defined by Twitter.
Conspicuously missing are the rules against certain types of “hate speech” that you see on Facebook, YouTube and other major sites even under the most vague definition of such content. This has lead to a wild west atmosphere of ethnic, racial and pretty much any type of vile speech that can be imagined allowable as long as no U.S. laws are being broken and no true threat is made. The problem Twitter faces is that what is legal and allowable here may not be allowable if the tweet originated from another country that has hate speech laws in effect. The must now strike a balance between growth in these countries and free expression. This is not a new dilemma.
eBay and Yahoo banned the buying and selling of Nazi memorabilia world wide even though it is not illegal in the United States but illegal in several countries in Europe. For the last few years Facebook has blocked Holocaust Denial and other content in countries which such expression is illegal even though it is not illegal in this country under First Amendment principles
This was not a morality move nor a judgment on the nature of hate speech or other expression that may be illegal in other countries. Twitter did not care about that before the decision and does not care now. Twitter simply wants worldwide growth and for it’s executives to stay out of foreign courts. In order to accomplish that they have to take world wide morality and legal standards into account. This move was inevitable and necessary to achieve that. Welcome to the “Free Expression Establishment.”
this has been going on since the start of twitter… and yet the so called early adopters of twitter in tech felt that an account called @NoahDavidSimon and around 25 other accounts I created after being disabled was more dangerous then these accounts. I am again reminded of the situation where I was forced to create Panopticons to surveillance these profiles if blocked. Eventually the hostility form the early twitter community led to my arrest and extradition to Washington State… and yet somehow terrorist accounts were overlooked. It is questionable why any law enforcement agency would arrest someone and call someone a stalker for using public feeds, but it did happen. The drawing above was done during this period in my life. I was arrested for what had been done to protect myself on twitter from a very hostile element that was organized against Jewish activists. I was also censored. (REDRAW)