Loud mouths and large followings don’t speak for everyone

Yesterday, I wrote about a recent furore on Twitter. You can read about that here. Despite that, I still ultimately think Twitter is more good than bad. As I have explained here and here, more good things have happened for our church because of it than any bad things have happened through being on it. I appreciate it’s not for everyone and I’m not saying it’s only ever great all the time, but I maintain there is more to be said for being on it than not.

But it is always tempting to believe what is happening on twitter is reflective of what is going on in the world. Bottom line: it isn’t.

I am reminded of two things I read some while back. First, I forget the source, somebody said that if you want to know everything that is going on, Twitter is great. If you want to know what is really going on, or what most people think, it doesn’t get you all that far.

Second, I remember Glen Scrivener writing about the guy in the room who holds the mic. Just because somebody stands up and says something in a meeting, doesn’t mean that person is speaking for the entire room. Just because somebody has a platform and is using it to loudly proclaim whatever it is they want to say (yes, yes, I know… glass houses…) doesn’t mean that everybody, or even most people, are tracking with them.

As I was being pilloried on Twitter the other day, I was reminded of these two things. Somebody who described themselves as ‘literally a communist’ – who has a particular worldview that they want to spread using their platform (as they are entirely entitled to do) – made some vociferous comments that, in all honesty, I don’t think most people bought. A number of her followers also piled in with their less than moderate views. And coming from me, to the ear of a lot of people, if I think you’re being extreme and ‘hard leftist’, you’re probably not being the voice of reason in the discussion. It is one thing for a UKIP supporter to throw that accusation at you; for somebody who fell out of love with the Labour Party because it went too right-wing for them under Tony Blair to say it, you’ve got serious problems.

Whilst it may feel – as the pile-on goes on – that everybody has this particular view, the fact is, the loudest mouth on twitter doesn’t necessarily speak for everyone. I know I certainly don’t. I don’t presume everyone shares my views. And if I did, I’m quickly divested of that opinion as the tweets roll in responding to whatever I said. But even as someone’s followers pile in to give the impression that they speak for most people – even if you end up with a few hundred notifications – it is but a drop in the ocean of the 66 million other people in the country who almost certainly don’t agree.

You might think that is overstating it. But it isn’t. I know 66 million other people don’t agree, or at least the majority of the 49 million other voters, because those people didn’t vote for the preferred option of that person and their followers who were making their case. In fact, their preferred option – and option they believed was the best option of all their preferred options for decades – proved to be the most disastrous election result for the party the led in 100 years. Despite the pile-on, that felt like a tidal wave of bile, most people just don’t agree.

As Glen Scrivener said in his article:

The brash among us are too busy yelling at the radio, despairing at “the culture,” and fantasizing about how our devastating ripostes would skewer the guy with the mic. The shy among us are too busy cowering away from our neighbors, expecting each to be as difficult as the guy with the mic. In both cases, we give far too much credence to the guy with the mic.

As one small but instructive example, a recent survey in the UK asked non-Christians whether they considered Christians “homophobic.” Among non-Christians who say they know a Christian, only 7 percent said they did. What’s fascinating to me is that whenever I quote that statistic, Christians instantly shoot back, “I don’t believe it. I bet it’s different in my town/workplace/demographic.” Maybe. But statisticians ran the survey, and you’re going with your gut. Is it possible you’re giving too much weight to the atheist with the mic? Perhaps you’re excusing yourself from fruitful outreach simply because you’re afraid of a projected image of what “the culture” believes. But you’re not called to love “the culture” as a concept. You’re called to love your neighbor. So why not turn to your neighbor and start the conversation?

In the same way, rather than assume everyone on twitter (even in the midst of the pile-on) thinks the same thing, and by extension everyone else in the culture, perhaps we should turn to our neighbour and just ask them what they think instead? We may just find they don’t pay all that much attention to people on twitter at all.

That’s not to say there is no value in putting out views on twitter (or other sites, as you prefer). It is just to say that we should keep those who respond in perspective. They may have a lot of followers (but not all followers are disciples), and they might have an amplified voice, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking they represent everybody. All too often, the reason they are on twitter – and not an elected official or in a public facing role that requires a lot of support – is because they don’t actually speak for many people at all.

But regardless of what we do with social media as a result, let’s certainly not make the mistake of assuming what is deemed important and serious online – what is deemed a vital issue worthy of contempt spewing forth like a river of sewage unbidden through your wifi connection – is, more often than not, unnoticed by many off the platform. Even those who do notice it don’t necessarily agree with it.

The loudest voices with the biggest followings on twitter do not speak for everyone. Let’s not make the mistake of assuming they do.