Pew Research recently came out with a new report titled “Twitter News Consumers: Young, Mobile and Educated,” which focuses in part on the profile of those who consume news on the social media service.  It’s an informative study overall, but there was a passing data point in it that struck me as interesting.

Brian Fung from the Washington Post picked it up:

Good news for publishers and news outlets! Over half of Twitter users use the service as a way to get news. These people also tend to be better educated and on their mobile devices all the time. But here’s the bad news: Just 16 percent of U.S. adults are on Twitter at all.

That figure, from the Pew Research Center’s latest report on U.S. news habits, is a fraction of the number of Americans who are on Facebook. Nearly two-thirds of the country’s adults are Facebook users — and that doesn’t count the young teens that Facebook depends on as a core demographic.

Yep. Just 16 percent of U.S. adults are on Twitter at all.  Sure, it’s just one survey, but it’s clear that it’s just a small fraction that are on Twitter.

The Pew Research report also noted a separate part of the study that makes this observation about the conversations on Twitter when it comes to news:

In addition, a separate Pew Research analysis of conversations on Twitter around major news events reveals three common characteristics: much of what gets posted centers on passing along breaking news; sentiments shift considerably over time; and however passionate, the conversations do not necessarily track with public opinion.

This reflects a point I find myself making often with other activists in the movement.  For those of us who use Twitter regularly, it can be easy to get caught up in the “bubble” and think that the environment there is representative of what’s going on in general everywhere, off Twitter.  An issue that might seem to have strong support or opposition on Twitter may not necessarily be reflected the same in casual offline conversations with people who don’t even use Twitter.  I myself see drastic differences in my own everyday encounters – sitting around the holiday dinner table with family and friends, or standing in line at a grocery store, or attending an event someplace.

Here are a couple of examples from the Pew report:

Although sentiment on Twitter can sometimes match that of the general population, it is not a reliable proxy for public opinion.  During the 2012 presidential race, Republican candidate Ron Paul easily won the Twitter primary — 55% of the conversation about him was positive, with only 15% negative. Voters rendered a very different verdict. After the Newtown tragedy, 64% of the Twitter conversation supported stricter gun controls, while 21% opposed them. A Pew Research Center survey in the same period produced a far more mixed verdict, with 49% saying it is more important to control gun ownership and 42% saying it is more important to protect gun rights.

While Twitter is a useful tool, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that, with only a small fraction of adults on Twitter, the reality outside of it may sometimes be much different.