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Why does the “BernieBro” myth persist? Because pundits don't understand how the Internet works

A misunderstanding of social media is driving media elites to keep pushing an easily disprovable stereotype

by Keith A. Spencer

Part 2 - The skewed demographics of Twitter

Twitter, unfortunately, informs the worldview of many of the country's most elite pundits, and some of its politicians too. Opinion columnists like David Brooks and Bret Stephens (both of the New York Times) are excellent examples of pundits who, at various times, seem to see the world as refracted through the bluebird's drinking glass. 

The problem is, Twitter is very much not a representative sample of the world. It is not a zeitgeist; it is not a cross-section of the population.

It is hard to understand this, even for very smart people, because the corporation that runs Twitter tries very hard to make it seem like Twitter is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of every cultural and political conversation.

But it is not true. However, the eponymous corporation behind Twitter profits from this perception of its platform as a zeitgeist. After all, the president is on it! Still, Twitter (the company) promotes this narrative of itself as where the conversation lives. They make money off of the lie that it is a representative cross-section of the world's opinions and thoughts.

But a study of Twitter demographics say otherwise.

Pew Research polls from 2019 found that about 22% of the US population is on Twitter, and 44% of users are in the 18-24 age range. Linger on that for a second: a substantial proportion of the people getting in Bret Stephens' mentions and making him upset may be scarcely older than children. Interestingly, Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine — a pundit with whom I rarely agree — is on the mark here.

"It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the platform shapes the minds of professional political observers," he wrote in a recent column. "Part of Twitter's allure to insiders is that it creates a simulacrum of the real world, complete with candidates, activists, and pundits all responding to events in real time. Because Twitter superficially resembles the outside world's political debate — it does, after all, contain the full left-to-right spectrum — it is easy to mistake it for the real thing."

Here's another stat from Pew that helps explain why Twitter is non-representative, a fount of professional-managerial class opinions: Thirty-one percent of Twitter users in the U.S. make more than $75,000, though only 23% of the country makes that much money. Likewise, 20% of U.S. Twitter users make less than $30,000, though about 28% of the country makes that much. The social media site is skewed towards wealthier Americans.

It's too bad there aren't as many statistics about who is active on the site. I've often suspected that people with white-collar office jobs and higher incomes (and thus more leisure time or computer time) are more steady tweeters, while those with manual labor jobs are not constantly perusing feeds and inserting themselves into the commentariat.

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