The Outstater: ‘Twittering Away the Political Discussion’

October 10, 2013

“Joe Biden (@VP) has a little more than 179,000 followers. But reports that 27 percent are fake. It reads like an official Twitter account, with very little personal engagement.” — Bill Murphy, Jr.,, May 29, 2013

CAREER POLITICIANS have met their match, but it may not be health care, the shutdown or even the debt ceiling. I bet on Twitter. They are embarrassingly bad at it.

Marketing experts tell us that users of Twitter fall into two groups, roughly those who might subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and those who pass notes in class.

The one is made up of serious miners of information. They use customized lists that produce Twitter feeds rivaling the hourly briefings of a CIA cell. The other, teenagers primarily, uses Twitter with casual abandon inside a small social circle. Its members send messages — every few seconds if not supervised — that are inchoate and mysterious but mostly just inane. This last group, oddly, includes a subset of powerful politicians.

One would think that Twitter would be just the tool for representative democracy. Not so. The celebrity, the sex fiend, the dyspareunian, the dyskinesian and the narcissist — they all seem to be tweeting to legitimate niches. Reading the tweets of politicians, though, you wonder who they imagine is following their tweeting. (The Twitter account of Anthony Weiner is one place where these worlds collide.)

In preparation for this article, tweets of leading Indiana politicians were collected over several months. They have been thrown away — a waste of good computer memory.

Our staff had a great time at (@blank) with the (@blank) this afternoon!
I congratulate newly sworn-in (@blank).
Groups like (@blank) work to break cycle of poverty.
Really impressed by (@blank) staff.
Visiting (@blank) to tour and connect on education. They do amazing work.
What a day to celebrate our nation’s freedom. Just thinking about all who have defended that freedom for many generations. So thankful.

Please, do they think that’s how Lady Gaga got 40 million followers? Free men and women in the nanosecond world of the Internet don’t have time for a politician’s folderol.

Clearly, the method of the professional politician, i.e., statism justified by a progressive vision, is at odds with the diverse, individual-driven reality of Twitter. Here is Michael Malone writing on a tangential point for Forbes:

“Whatever else it is, progressivism holds a top-down, mass-control, limited-freedom political philosophy that has only grown more anachronistic as the decades have passed, and as, ironically, technology itself has increasingly supported de-centralized, networked and bottom-up institutions. Corporations learned that a generation ago (or they disappeared). In successful corporations today, management works best when it is the servant of employees and customers: Look at the backlash from a billion users every time Facebook or Twitter tries to impose some new rule from above. . . . That leaves progressivism the last true bastion of late 19th-century command-and-control thinking. It can build as many websites and social networks as it likes, but as long as it tries to impose mass solutions from the top in a world of personalized solutions from the bottom, it is doomed to fail — and our nation continues its slide into debt and enfeeblement.”

The takeaway is that Twitter is not only useless to the political class but anathema to it. The professional politician is in the business of winning elections, not finding better ways to inform an electorate. He needs to obfuscate and manipulate — hard to do within a 140-character limit in front of potentially tens of millions of fact-checkers.

So, you can dismiss as laughable a claim that your elected representative has a legitimate Twitter following other than dependent members of his immediate family and paid retainers. The truth is that insightful, instant, widely assessable, compressed and spontaneously honest digital mass communication is not going to be his thing.

— Craig Ladwig @The_IPR



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