23rd - 26th June 2011

Are we an elitist group?

Are we an elitist group?

This question has seen a number of incarnations during the past few days, both inside and outside the formal sessions and discussion:

In the discussion on the role of social media and bloggers in bringing about societal trends, how representative are social media users and producers? How much - if at all - can we claim to speak for our societies, on their behalf, or even address the society at large and not a self-contained subgroup that we happen to belong to?

I am writing this blog post in English, which is probably the first language of neither of us. And we both have access to computers and internet connection, effectively making us a minority in this part of the world.
We are not, for all intents and purposes, a representative group.

But no one claims that bloggers and tweeps are a cross-section of society: they are not. Probably never will be either, too. And that is quite alright.

Social media users, particularly in the developing world, are significantly younger and more educated than their average co-citizen. They are also overwhelmingly urban (and urbane).

But asking whether bloggers are "representative" is akin to asking whether engineers are a representative group: the answer, for both groups, is no. But in neither case can we claim that they are not an integral, and important part of the society. Often closely connected to the nation's pulse, bloggers and social media producers are often great contributors to the public debate, dissecting ideas and confronting them with one another with a vehemence seldom found in the traditional media or in the offline public sphere.

Well do they speak on society's behalf then?

This one is significantly harder to answer however.
In the run-up to the March 2011 constitutional amendments referendum, the opinion in the Egyptian twittersphere seemed to overwhelmingly favour the "No" vote -- which made only 23% of the votes nationwide.
Why did they seem to get it so wrong? It is a sign that social media users - or "onliners" to use a new term i've recently learned - no longer have their hands on the pulse of the nation?

I maintain that this is an unfair accusation. The vote was rife with electoral misbehaviour - particularly in the run-up to the vote and within the least educated segments of the society. If statistical representativeness is the metric we are looking for, we are then probably not representative.

But bloggers and 'onliners' are indeed very much at the heart of the debate. They are also, and this is why we turn to them, at the forefront of new ideas and fresh discussions. The format of online debate makes it a cutthroat forum for discussion where bad ideas are weeded out mercilessly and new ideas are generated, subjected to severe scrutiny, before trickling down to the rest of the society.

The feedback mechanism is the more difficult part. Do we read the debate within the general society carefully enough? Perhaps we don't, and this is something we ought to work on.

how representative are social

how representative are social media users

I would also question if

I would also question if "onliners"/bloggers actually engage in the debate within the general society enough, never mind reading it...

But then maybe its one place where they represent the majority :)

Great post, many questions...

Who played the devil's

Who played the devil's advocate and asked you "whether bloggers are "representative"? :)

Nice one :)