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STUDY: It's official - Twitter users are out of touch with the general population

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Stephen Fry, don’t be upset – Twitter isn’t most people.

The popular actor and presenter, with several million followers, quit Twitter yesterday, fed up with being bashed online for his joke he made about a friend being dressed like a “bag lady” during the British Academy Film and Television Awards yesterday.

Fry followed his dumping of the social media platform with a blog explaining his decision, saying “the fun is over” and describing it as a “stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous” that now shows “as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined”.

He needn’t be dismayed, as a study published this week has shown that what is tweeted rarely coincides with what the general population actually thinks.

The study focused on an analysis of tweets in the three months leading up to the 2013 German federal election.

Social Science Computer Review used several approaches to ensure a consistent finding, including having two research assistants examine 6479 tweets and identify them as containing negative, neutral or positive sentiments.

Angela Merkel’s CDU was mentioned in 42% of tweets shared by keyword, and 39.69% shared by hashtag. Positive sentiment ranged between 5.08% and 6.98%, and negative sentiment between 22.23% and 23.22%.

Piraten – the German Pirate Party – garnered 28.5% of of tweets shared by keyword, and 34.63% shared by hashtag. Positive sentiment ranged between 35.81% and 37.58%, and negative sentiment between 7% and 7.53%.

Here’s a comparison of their mentions which showed positive sentiment:

Based on that, you might expect a decent showing by the Pirate Party. Yet it collected just 2.2% of the vote, compared to Merkel’s 34.1%.

The study’s authors say rather than popularity on Twitter translating into a candidate or party actually getting voted into office, it’s only reliable as a measure of attention they receive.

A video clip of a candidate’s campaign gaffe on the nightly news might lead to a spike in Twitter attention, but not result in more overall political support, according to the study.

“Twitter’s user base is highly skewed and far from being representative of the population at large,” the study said.

It also noted that Twitter users did not reflect the demographics of the population as a whole. In the US, Twitter and Yik Yak are often more popular among millennial voters.

For a more reliable indicator of voter support, the authors recommended turning to Google.

A report from Bloomberg last week showed that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the most searched-for Republican and Democrat candidates leading up to the New Hampshire primaries. Both went on to win their respective polls.

Twitter, under increasing pressure to find audience growth amid a crashing share price, was not impressed with the findings.

“I’m surprised that The Hill finds 3 year old German Twitter data relevant. I’d advise passing next time,” Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio told The Hill.

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