I was prompted to think about social media “dark matter” today, by an article in the Atlantic. It looked at the traffic in to the Atlantic’s site, and showed that 56% of it was not from a visible source (Facebook, Twitter, other websites), but from “dark social media” – chat programs, email lists and so on.
On the one hand, you have all the social networks that you know. They’re about 43.5 percent of [the Atlantic’s] social traffic. On the other, you have this previously unmeasured dark social network that’s delivering 56.5 percent of people to individual stories. This is not a niche phenomenon! It’s more than 2.5x Facebook’s impact on the site. Day after day, this continues to be true, though the individual numbers vary a lot, say, during a Reddit spike or if one of our stories gets sent out on a very big email list or what have you. Day after day, though, dark social is nearly always our top referral source.
This is relevant to open policymaking. One of the elements of open policymaking that we at Demsoc always talk about is supporting and creating networks and listening to the discussions out in the world. If more than half the discussions are unknowable, are we getting a true picture of what’s being said? Should we bother to watch what we can see – or to be representative are we thrown back on the idea of creating bespoke discussion spaces and inviting people in?