Study: On Twitter, Misery Loves Company

If you have ever felt like Twitter can be a mean, petty place, it’s not just you. Pew Research has completed and published a study spanning a year which provides proof that the Twitterverse is much more negative than the the general population.

Looking at the last election, Pew examined eight specific events and measured the reaction on Twitter to those events versus polling data that sampled the wider public. They found the reaction was at times quite different on Twitter, and not just divided along partisan lines:

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.

Depending on the issue, there was some times stark differences between the two realities.

As Pew points out, that is likely a factor of who is on Twitter:

Most notably, Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. In the 2012 news consumption survey, half (50%) of adults who said they posted news on Twitter were younger than 30, compared with 23% of all adults. And 57% of those who posted news on Twitter were either Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 46% of the general public.

But regardless of political bent, there are far more negative comments on pretty much any issue regardless of subject matter. So, what does that mean for you? A few things:

Sentiment Is Relative

With listening software like Sysomos or Radian6, sentiment is presented as is – unweighted. In reporting to campaign leadership or even better understanding how your organization, candidate or issue is doing online, it is important to take this negative bent into account when measuring your success. When looking at Twitter, it is important to remember negative sentiment will naturally trend higher.

Limited Reach

While I continue to maintain that Twitter is essential for public affairs, the reach of those talking about news and politics on is limited. Pew notes that only 13% of adults said they ever use Twitter or read Twitter messages,while a mere 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news or news headlines. This is a subset of a subset of the population. Those negative waves you experience may not go beyond the small group of Twitter users into the wider population.

Helmets On

OK, so Twitter is a mean place full of negative people. Then gear up and get ready. Knowing the source of criticism allows you and your team to plan ahead and determine how you want to respond and on what grounds. If you know that Twitter is a tough crowd, then prepare accordingly. Make sure you game out potential questions or issues and have a Twitter-friendly response where you can then drive them to your supporting material on your website or other assets.

So Twitter is a mean place full of negative people. Then gear up and get ready.


Like anything, there is an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. Don’t look at Twitter as a place to avoid, but rather an opportunity to advance your particular position, answer questions or correct the record. Often it is difficult to get a reaction at all. At least on Twitter, there’s less worry about that.

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