Politicking on Twitter: A Potentially Dangerous Game
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Using Twitter is vital for politicians looking to maximize their potential. However, it’s also critical to understand its benefits and limitations before joining.
Social media and online use is increasing rapidly. Although a recent Pew Charitable Trust Poll found that only 13 percent of Americans use Twitter – nearly doubling over the past year –the number is deceiving for politicians, particularly due to that figure being much larger amongst those who are politically active.
Furthermore, the same Pew Trusts survey found that Hispanics are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as Caucasians – which should be of particular interest to those running in Rhode Island’s CD-1 race this year due to a key Hispanic voter base. And Pew Trusts also found that more than two-out-of-five voters in 2010 used social networking sites or Twitter for political purposes – which will more than likely increase drastically in the 2012 election cycle.
Additionally, reporters are increasingly creating stories from the Twitter feeds of politicians. According to a recent University of Texas poll, two-out-of-five journalists are using Twitter as a source for stories – up nearly 10 percent from the year before.
With Twitter use increasing every day; it’s breeding intensified scrutiny from politically astute followers, which is exemplified by the recent saga of a New York congressman. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) used Twitter effectively throughout the past year to enhance his profile – even positioning it as a partial catalyst in becoming a conversational frontrunner for New York City Mayor in 2013.
What Twitter giveth, it can taketh away
However, over the past several weeks, Rep. Weiner learned a tough lesson – what Twitter giveth, it can taketh away. When a lewd photograph was sent from the Congressman’s Twitter account, he failed to inoculate himself from this incident.
The negative Twitter story remained at the media’s forefront for several days – even before admitting that he had committed wrongdoing. Now, after weeks of stories and an over-the-weekend admission that he sent a pornographic photo to a 17 year-old girl, Rep. Weiner not only has become a staple of late night comedy routines, but faces possible criminal charges and has been called on by several colleagues – Democrat and Republican – to resign from his post.
This is a tragic story, and one that Rhode Island politicians should take note of – before getting on Twitter and sending messages with a “guns-a-blazing” approach, realize that becoming to enthralled with the world of Tweeting can quickly and aggressively turn into a tragic narrative. And also realize that if used effectively, Twitter can serve as a catalyst for political stardom without the pitfalls.
Avoiding Twitter’s wrath
Not all politicians fall victim to Twitter’s wrath. Several do not Tweet personal messages – many do so only to further their policy initiatives and direct followers to additional information. Tweets often include hyperlinks to press releases, blog posts or articles with more background on their agenda. And when Twitter is used professionally, the politician who owns the account is less apt to controversy.
Many politicians event have a staffer – or a team of staffers – manage their Twitter account so that personal use isn’t an option. In this case, if there is an unfortunate incident, the onus is on the staffer or team in charge of the account. Thus providing an opportunity for the politician who owns the account to have plausible deniability when an incident occurs – making an incident or storyline like that of Rep. Weiner impossible to endure.
Nonetheless, it’s hazardous as a politician to get wrapped up in the personal lure of Tweeting – and much more safe and useful to stick with a professional approach. Like it or not, it’s increasingly key for a politician to have a presence on Twitter. And it is even more imperative that the purpose when joining the Tweet revolution is clear.
In jumping on the social networking site and gearing up for their first Tweet, politicians should make certain that leisure Tweets are kept to a minimum –instead using the communication medium as a platform for followers to hear more about stances on key issues. Otherwise, ending up with a Rep. Weiner-esque narrative could become an Ocean State political reality sooner rather than later.
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Brett Broesder is a former campaign manager for Peter F. Kilmartin’s successful Attorney General run in 2010, and also served as the policy and legislative director for the office of Rhode Island Attorney General. He is currently a public-relations consultant for the Connected Marketing Practice at Hill & Knowlton in New York, NY.