The automatic response when you hear the word Tweet is to associate it with Trump. Yet some recent Pew Research Center suggests the Tweeter in chief is out of step with most other Tweeters.
In a paper, Sizing up Twitter Users, Stefan Wojcik and Adam Hughes find that “US adult Twitter users are younger and more likely to be Democrats than the general public. Most users rarely tweet, but the most prolific 10% create 80% of tweets from adult US users.” The study was based on a nationally representative survey of 2791 US adult Twitter users.
“The analysis indicates that the 22% of American adults who use Twitter are representative of the broader population in certain ways, but not others. Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. Twitter users also differ from the broader population on some key social issues. For instance, Twitter users are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country and to see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society. But on other subjects, the views of Twitter users are not dramatically different from those expressed by all US adults,” Wojcik and Hughes say.
The research also “highlights the sizable diversity among Twitter users themselves. The median user tweets just twice each month, but a small cohort of extremely active Twitter users post with much greater regularity. As a result, much of the content posted by Americans on Twitter reflects a small number of authors.”
The most active tweeters when compared “with other U.S. adults on Twitter, they are much more likely to be women and more likely to say they regularly tweet about politics. That said, there are only modest differences in many attitudes between those who tweet frequently and those who do not.”
Well none of those characteristics – young, female, educated, Democrat leaners – immediately bring to mind Donald Trump. But the findings need to be put in some perspective – worldwide Twitter has 321 million users compared to Russian and alt-right’s favourite social media outlet, Facebook’s, 2.3 billion. Facebook user numbers are growing overall even though there is lots of anecdotal evidence of people closing accounts. Of course, how many of the users are malignant bots rather than people is another issue. Twitter numbers are in decline perhaps because those female frequent users are becoming reluctant to share space with Trump.
The other ongoing discussion about Twitter is how it has changed protest movements – an issue discussed in detail in a book, Twitter and Tear Gas, by Zeynep Tufekci. The doyen of Internet security and all other things online, Bruce Schneier, reviewed the book back in July 2017 suggesting that: “There are two opposing models of how the Internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the Internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual. Derided as ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ the ease of action without commitment can result in movements like Occupy petering out in the US without any obvious effects.”
Tufekci contrasts the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Ukraine with the short-lived Occupy movement and the multi-year campaigning and organisation culminating in Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington.
Tufekci says: ” (While) The Internet similarly allows networked movements to grow dramatically and rapidly but without prior building of formal or informal organizational and other collective capacities that could prepare them for the inevitable challenges they will face and give them the ability to respond to what comes next.” Given what’s happening on Everest at present it is apposite that she uses the analogy of Nepalese Sherpas helping relatively unskilled climbers to climb the mountain without the climbers having embedded the capacities that could prepare them for many challenges which might arise to put this problem in perspective.
She also characterises different types of protests as ones which send signals, change the conversation about issues, disrupt situations or build institutional capacity such as getting out the vote.
But governments and other powerful interests have the capacity to respond to all these protests as Schneier says: “I have long characterized our technological future as a battle between the quick and the strong. The quick – dissidents, hackers, criminals, marginalized groups – are the first to make use of a new technology to magnify their power. The strong are slower, but have more raw power to magnify. So while protesters are the first to use Facebook to organize, the governments eventually figure out how to use Facebook to track protesters. It’s still an open question who will gain the upper hand in the long term, but Tufekci’s book helps us understand the dynamics at work.”
And when the strong also have enormous monetary or governmental resources online death tax campaigns, pizza parlour murder centre conspiracy theories, full page ads in newspapers and other tactics become that much easier to implement.
Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com.blog/