Social media and the half dozen grasshoppers 

Earlier today at the British Academy’s Social Listening event, Paul Crayston used this extract from Edmund Burke to illustrate a point about the tendency of social media users to mistake the noise they make within their own milieux for the activity taking place on the platform as a whole.

Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field

We often take the activity proximate to us as indicative of a much broader sweep of social reality, implicitly framing our own experience as a reliable guide to wider processes. This is a mistake on social media and it is a mistake beyond it. How we imagine the world beyond our own microcosm, particularly our immediate expectations rather than considered impressions, usually reflects our own preconceptions more than it does a wider reality.

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