Why Politicians Shouldn't Tweet
We’ve witnessed the revolutionary effects social media has on every aspect of our lives, including politics, on many occasions. Some of these are positive, such as the #YouthForClimate protests which, through the use of social media, succeeded in bringing tens of thousands of people together in solidarity for climate change – but there is, of course, a downside. It’s no secret that social media, and its susceptibility to manipulation and interference alike, played a significant role in the Brexit referendum and recent elections across the Western World. Many of these issues are for parliament and regulators to fix with new laws, legal jargon and sanctions for those who abuse those laws. Adapting the legal environment to such new, rapid changes is not an easy challenge to overcome, and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last on this issue.
My focus here, however, is not on Twitter’s algorithms, Russian interference or Facebook’s privacy breaches. Setting aside the big legal and institutional challenges social media represents, I’d like to look at it from a more individual perspective. Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I can’t help but wonder why politicians play right into the faults and dangers of social media. Of course, Twitter enables politicians to interact directly with their constituents, and that should be utilised for the benefit of democracy. It should not, however, be seen as a platform to spurge one’s personal opinions as Trump has incessantly continued doing in the two years since taking office. Obviously, his use of limited vocabulary in capital letters undermine his and politicians’ he interacts with credibility, as well as the standards to which we usually hold politicians accountable. But that’s not all, and it’s not exclusively his fault. Twitter by its very nature subjects politicians to an entertainment barometer. Comments are made about what they wear to which event, where they spend their holidays and who they spend them with. As public figures on social media, politicians are increasingly treated like some kind of celebrities. And the more they share, the more likely they are to use these platforms, and the cycle goes on.
Take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance. Now, I’m not saying that she isn’t great at Twitter – she is. She uses it to her advantage, playing around with memes, images and an unlimited ammunition of tongue-in-cheek puns. The by-product of this, however, is that that’s what news becomes about. “Clapback” tweets results in ridiculous headlines topped off with a couple of emojis like “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Beat Everyone at Twitter in Nine Tweets”. Needless to say, an article analysing data on the Green New Deal would have been much more adequate than one analysing the Congresswoman’s fluctuating number of followers. Her catchy, refreshing, young rhetoric and strategy seem to almost overshadow what she is actually trying to achieve. This is in part because she is a woman, which unfortunately still means her looks and behaviour get more scrutiny than they would if she was a man. Nonetheless, we can’t all blame it on our misogynistic society. It’s also due to the incumbent entertainment-focused style of politics we are moving towards, and the essential role Twitter plays in that evolution.
Additionally, it is simply ridiculous to expect from any politician to encompass his or her opinion, argument or selling points adequately in a 280-character slogan. A tweet hardly offers the right time or space to discuss politics properly, and two full sentences do not allow for a correct and representative expression of opinion. Frankly, Twitter is one of the main drivers for the dumbing down of politics. Voting behaviours are based on small, particularised and ready-to-digest catchy sentences tweeted by a representative, as people stop reading lengthier articles, op-eds or even campaigning programs.
By refraining from using Twitter as a substitute for press conferences and political statements, politicians and the public alike can only benefit. Officials’ tweets should be treated with the same scrutiny as any statement they make at a Town Hall Meeting or Press Conference, if not more. The rise of social media seems to have made people forget that the spoken word is temporary, but whatever you send out into the world by print stays. Minnesota Congresswoman Omar, for one, will readily confirm that for you.