Who’s engaging

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One of the things I’ve done throughout COVID is run occasional snap polls on twitter to gage the views of those who tend to interact with me and faithroots on social media. I frequently give a health warning that the results are not representative. The reason for this is that a twitter audience doesn’t necessarily give a balanced/full cross section of society. That’s why you often get a situation where people run their own little polls to prove that You Gov or Survation are wrong and convince themselves that whatever their favoured view is happens to be truly popular, that Labour will win a landslide, Brexit is about to be overturned or the vast majority of people are opposed to vaccine passports.

Proper pollsters ask lots of control questions that enable them to weight their results to account for potential bias in the mix. So, I thought I’d do my own little experiment and see what I could find out about those who follow me online. Again there are some caveats here. What these results will tell me about is those people who follow me on twitter and are happy to interact. It won’t tell me about those people who directly find their way to Faithroots, who are friends on Facebook, know me in real life or who simply follow in twitter but don’t tend to interact.

Here’s what I found out.

First I asked about where people sat on the spectrum regarding COVID as a general view. This is because a lot of the things we’ve been talking about are on that subject. I’ve distinguished

  • COVID scepticism – those who are not convinced about the severity/risk of the virus.
  • Zero COVID -those who believe we should be seeking to eliminate COVID completely -or as much as possible.
  • COVID centrists – those who see COVID as serious, believe we should use measures where necessary but believe there are costs with that which need to be considered too.

I would expect those who identify as sceptic to be most resistant to face masks, vaccines and restrictions in church. I would expect ZEro COVIDers to be most supportive of lockdowns.

As you can see and unsurprisingly, most people leaned towards the centre. That’s where we all tend to see ourselves. However, there were 3 times as many sceptics as zero-covid supporters in my sample. That is going to affect the feedback I hear and the conversations I’m involved in.

I then asked some questions about age, geography and gender.

As you can see, respondents to my surveys are more likely to be male, English and in the 19-39 age group. That’s not to say that women, people from other countries and older people aren’t present but they are less likely to be engaging with the questions I’m asking. This means that if I’m to hear female, older (and younger), non white English voices then I need to listen harder. I suspect this is true for many of us and not just on social media.

In terms of people’s experience of COVID…

the majority of those who responded are vaccinated. However, I am engaging with some people who are not yet jabbed. I don’t know however if this is a matter of choice or if they are in contexts where vaccines are less available. However, given the breakdown on geography I suspect it is the former..

A significantly high proportion say they haven’t yet had COVID. That’s probably a little over what we would expect if those engaging were proportionate to the wider population. Currently, over 11 million have tested positive for the virus in the UK but this potentially accounts for only half of cases which suggests over 30% have had COVID.

Just under one third have experienced bereavement due to the pandemic. These two questions are important because personal experience of the virus is likely to affect attitudes.

I then asked about political leanings

These are interesting because from what I’ve observed, I would expect twitter generally to be left/liberal/pro EU. Perhaps the word “socialist” is too strong. It’s interesting to see that a significant proportion either “don’t know” about Brexit or see it as no longer a relevant issue. Whether that’s true generally or just of those from the political perspectives I’m primarily engaging with.

I then asked about religious leanings and discovered the following

I’m primarily engaging with conservative evangelicals and that probably reflects the type of content I provide and comment on.

Finally I am primarily engaging with people who are in some form of church leadership.

If I could comment on a few things here. First, based on the make up I would generally speaking expect those participating to be reluctant participants in COVID restrictions. I also would expect them to lean to socially conservative positions on a range of ethical issues. This means I have to factor that bias in when I’m analysing any surveys I run. However, it also means that I need to be alert to the types of voices that I’m likely to hear when I participate in conversations. These may not always be representative of wider society or the physical community I’m part of. Indeed, I suspect I would have got very different results if I were to survey the local population around me or our church congregation.

This reminds me that I need to be careful when listening. First, I should not assume that the people I talk to on social media give an accurate representation of the views and values of those I meet in our local community or at church. But that works the other way, the views of those I talk to in church may not reflect the views of wider society around, and not just on faith matters.

As I said above, it is helpful to know when the conversations you have may not be completely representative. This is particularly so in the context of church. For example one thing we were wrestling with at our last church was that when we called members’ meetings then those who turned up were not necessarily representative of the church body in terms of class, age and ethnicity. It’s important therefore that we take time to listen carefully and to amplify the voices of those who are not so well represented in our conversations.

We also need to beware confirmation bias. I know how to get likes and retweets on twitter. That doesn’t mean I am truly persuasive just as I can get applause and amens in the church meeting without having actually engaged the wider church family.

Just to repeat again that this is only one segment of those I engage with -facebook, direct blog and face to face contexts may well be different. And please don’t assume that because you aren’t in the majority groupings that Faithroots isn’t for you. Indeed that simply reminds me that I need to hear your voices even louder!

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