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Twitter and Politcs- Social Networking and Political Connectivity

Karen Fisher

Twitter, a microblogging site that allows users to communicate through 140 character posts called “tweets”, was launched in 2006 by its creator, Jack Dorsey. Today the popular website has more than 300 million users worldwide. In the past few years a number of important events worldwide have led to Twitter being used not only as a social networking website but as a political communication device.

Twitters debut as a political device came after the 2009 Iran elections. Following the announcement that President Mahmod Ahmadinejad had been reelected, several different groups of opposition rallied, saying that the election results had been falsified and voting had been rigged. These claims were based on reports of more that 100% voter turn out in two provinces, unprecedented support from opposition parties in some areas, and support from rural areas where Ahmadinejad was very unpopular among citizens.
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The day after the Iranian election results were announced, supporters of the opposition candidate, Mousavi, began to protest in the streets. The next day Basij, a paramilitary group that supported Ahmadinejad raided Tehran University where they injured many protesters. That weekend, over 170 people were arrested by the government, including many prominent politicians. During this time the Iranian regime tried its hardest to make sure that no news of the protests left Iran. Newspapers were told to change headlines, broadcasts were jammed and made unavailable to Iranian viewers and news headquarters were raided. During this time, protesters shared information and tools through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Following the release of the election results, the internet was shut down and then restarted with much lower bandwidth. Because news media could not share information throughout Iran and the rest of the world about what was happening, most information was exchanged through twitter under the hash tag #iranelection.

Earlier this year as what came to be known as the Arab Spring began, Twitter was used once again as a political communication tool. According to The Christian Science Monitor , analysts and observers have classified the ways social media was used during the Arab Spring into two groups; as an organizing tool and as a broadcasting platform. News outlets relied on tweets from protesters for the news that they broadcast, emphasizing the broadcasting power of the website. Facebook’s “event” function was important as an organizer- users could invite people to protests and meetings with the click of a mouse.

Media has always played an important role when the masses have revolted. During the French revolution, printed pamphlets distributed information and motivation to protesters. More recently, before social networking, email lists and chatrooms were used to spread information and to call people into action.

Twitter aids political process as a forum for worldwide communication. The hash tag function, which connects tweets on the same subject and displays them in lists, connects information and grouped it in an easy to access and absorb fashion. In this day and age, it is very difficult for a government to cover up its actions because as soon as a person sees something happening and text messages it to Twitter, the information has become available to the world.

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Recently, Twitter has come to be important in a different form of political communication. During President Obama’s 2008 campaign, Obama used the internet as tool to gain funds and organize events and used his twitter account to communicate with his supporters. Today, Obama has over ten million followers on twitter. Obamas administration also started an event called “Twitter Townhall” in which Twitter users could tweet their questions to Obama under the hashtag #askobama. A computer calculated which questions had been asked, retweeted and discussed the most and Obama answered these popular questions.

The Obama administration has encouraged political discussion between the president and citizens using this microblogging site. The internet has made almost everything more accessible, so why not the president? 2012 presidential hopefuls are also making use of Twitter as a political tool. The Associated Press’s Beth Fouhy and Jack Gillum pointed to the fact that twitter is free to use as an explanation for the fact that it has been heavily relied on by candidates whose campaigns are struggling. Newt Gingrich’s campaign, which is more than one million dollars in debt, is the most active campaign on twitter. Twitter also announced this year that space will be made available for political advertising.

Obama’s advisers say that republicans are doing it wrong- that the Obama campaign used the site to ask supporters to do something, to take some sort of action whether it be donating, volunteering, voting or even just staying informed. Republicans often use the site for updates and messages that are relatively safe and fact-driven.

Twitter has recently become a medium for announcing candidacy for political positions, and oter major campaign or constituent announcements. But Twitter is not always helpful for candidates- often one online mistake could lead to disaster. For proof, look no further than the recent drama surrounding Representative Anthony Weiner. He sent a suggestive picture of himself via Twitter to one of his female followers. After denying having sent the picture for a few days, he resigned from congress.

An anonymous contributor to the Economist says that though Twitter makes politicians more accessible, in order for this accessibility to matter this interaction must induce political change. Politicians all over the world are using twitter to connect with their constituents, and the Economist maintains that politicians must use twitter in three ways in order to be a successful user: social messages, service messages and political messages. Personal tweets are dangerous because a tweet that was not thought through can have huge consequences and haunt a politician for the rest of their career. The anonymous writer also hypothesizes that Twitter may be a better tool for campaigning and opposition than it is for actual governing of people.

What is the real effect of Twitter on politics? In its foremost role, as discussion forum for the masses, Twitter plays a major role in the facilitation of discussion and in the spread of news. In times of crisis and censorship, people have come together through their cell phones and computers, and have made a commitment to share the truth with the world in support of democracy and freedom.

In Twitters role as a connection between political figures and the citizens, the website acts as a reassurance for the masses. It assures citizens that those who they vote for- who are supposed to be held responsible for their actions by their constituents- are accessible and listening. For some noble politicians, if any are left in the world, this part of Twitter may be used for good. But for other politicians who use the website, the illusion of interaction is used simply to pacify the masses and gather more support through an “accessible” face of a campaign or elected representative.


Works Cited
Fouhy, Beth, and Jack Gillum. "AP Analysis: Candidates' Twitter Use Varies Widely - Politics - Decision 2012 - Msnbc.com." Msnbc.com - Breaking News, Science and Tech News, World News, US News, Local News- Msnbc.com. MSNBC, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 09 Dec. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45104011/ns/politics-decision_2012/t/ap-candidates-twitter-use-varies-widely/ >.



Moore, Jina. "Social Media: Did Twitter and Facebook Really Build a Global Revolution? - CSMonitor.com." The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com. The Christian Science Monitor, 30 June 2011. Web. 09 Dec. 2011. <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2011/0630/Social-media-Did-Twitter-and-Facebook-really-build-a-global-revolution >.

Final Exam Review question #2:
by Fred Staffieri
  1. A. The thesis of this webpage is; twitter has a major influence because of the ability to report any information worldwide instantly, and this information can often have a strong influence on politics. This topic relates to the new media literacies class because it is about twitter, a new type of media. Many people use twitter as a resource and this webpage introduces another scenario that many might not have known. ‘
  2. B. This is a strong webpage with many examples that help prove the thesis. I liked the example of the “Arab Spring” because I had never heard of that event before. Another thing that I thought was interesting was how people “follow” those with political power. I liked the quote “But Twitter is not always helpful for candidates- often one online mistake could lead to disaster”. This is true. Everything that anyone puts online is made visible to the world and they should be careful so as to not jeopardize their careers. The author obviously knows about the topic. I liked how at the end of the webpage the main points were highlighted in bold as to emphasize the key points. The pictures were well incorporated and the subject is interesting.
  3. C. This webpage could have been better constructed. More photographs would have been beneficial to the overall look of the sight. I would have liked to see the use of twitter during the September eleven attacks explained. This was one of the first major uses of twitter if I am not mistaken, and even though it doesn’t have to do with politics, it still influenced the way that people use the technology today.