Public views of EA: some quick-and-dirty Twitter polls
In the wake of the FTX/SBF debacle, it might be helpful to have some idea how the general public views EA at the moment. How much has the crisis hurt our public image? How many people have first heard of EA in the last couple of weeks, in a negative light?
I don’t have access to large, representative samples of the populations in relevant countries. However, I did run a couple of quick-and-dirty Twitter polls that might be marginally informative (but see caveats below).
The first poll simply asked for people’s general views of EA, as positive, neutral/mixed, or negative. Results are below in the screenshot (on Nov. 30, after the poll ran for 24 hours). Of the 1,203 responses in total, there was a roughly even split between these three options; apart from those who didn’t know what EA was, or just wanted to see results.
The second poll asked when people first read or heard about EA, with options including within the last month (e.g. as a direct result of the FTX/SBF news coverage), 1 month to 1 year ago (e.g. as a result of publicity around Will MacAskill’s ‘What we owe the future book’), or more than 1 year ago. Of the 967 responses, most had heard of EA more than a year ago; only 12% hadn’t heard of it.
Caveats: My Twitter sample is not representative of any particular nation. Of my 125,812 current Twitter followers, over 80% are male, most are American, most are centrist or conservative, and they’re more educated than average. Since I tweet about EA once in a while, they’re probably more likely to have heard of EA than typical people; insofar as I promote a positive view of EA, they might have a more positive view than typical people.
Also, my response rate was a bit under 1% (of my total followers) for both polls, which is pretty typical of Twitter polls in general, and of my own polls in the past. If people who know about EA are more likely to respond to these polls, the results may over-estimate people’s familiarity with EA; if people who have strong positive or negative views are more likely to response, the results may over-estimate more extreme positive or negative views.
Any EAs who would like further data are welcome to copy my polls on Twitter or other social media platforms, gather further data, and post results in comments below (or in their own posts). It might be especially informative to gather additional data on the valence of people’s views towards EA (positive or negative) conditional on when they first heard about EA (within the last month versus earlier).
For more serious data, EA organizations could consider commissioning PR firms or market research firms to collect more representative national samples, so we can have a more accurate, evidence-based view of people’s familiarity with EA, and the valence of their views about our movement.
I don’t think these Twitter polls are at all helpful and risk being misleading.
This is not just because they are highly non-representative as you admit but also there is no pre-event test to compare results to so it’s hard to draw conclusions about how the FTX situation contributes to the distribution of results you did get. It’s also impossible to know how the first poll connects to the second poll as they could be going to somewhat different audiences (for example—the first question got more votes) and you can’t do crosstabs between the two questions.
Rethink Priorities is doing some work looking into this and we could very easily and quickly do more work with representative samples if further commissioned to do so. It’s a bummer we don’t have EA Pulse running yet as this would be an ideal use case.
Peter—your concerns are valid regarding non-representative sampling, and the lack of a pre/post test comparison over time that would be more informative about the FTX effect.
I wouldn’t draw strong conclusions from any specific Twitter poll. My main goal here was to try to spark some further, more systematic research, with some more representative samples.
Also, I was just curious how my followers viewed EA at the moment, and having indulged that curiosity, thought I might as well share some results with this forum.