Politics Moves 140 Characters at a Time

In Features by Marlee Drake

In recent years, Twitter has undergone a social transformation, from a place where friends and family communicate fun quips and clever thoughts, to a mouthpiece for the most powerful individuals in this country. According to NPR’s web article, ‘Declaration of War’ Means North Korea Can Shoot Down U.S. Bombers, President Donald Trump may have “declared war” in 135 characters, at least in the eyes North Korean leadership. That’s all it takes now. Just over a hundred characters can spark a national political fire.

“Politicians have figured out how to use social media to both seem authentic and to get around the mediators,” said Dr. Kori Schake, a member of the Hoover Institution research team at Stanford University and an expert in international relations. According to Schake, Twitter has been used in the last few years as a tool for politicians to speak directly, without filter or advisement, to the American people. President Trump has been especially successful with this medium.

According to The American Presidency Project, President Trump has tweeted over 1,000 times from his POTUS account over the course of his presidency but has had only one solo news conference. Twitter has become the most direct line American citizens have to the President, so much that it is treated almost as a primary news outlet.

“What President Trump has done, so amazingly shrewdly, is say ‘Get your information from me. Don’t get it from the news outlets,’” said Schake.

However, the ability for people to communicate without mediation is a “double-edged sword,” according to Lynn Walsh, former National President of the Society of Professional Journalists and adjunct PLNU journalism professor.

“For journalists, we have to really make sure that we aren’t immediately bringing attention to, or covering a tweet from, a lawmaker or official if that information isn’t correct,” said Walsh.

After the recent shooting in Las Vegas, unverified information circulated on Twitter regarding the shooter’s motives and missing persons. Lindsey Lupo, PLNU political science professor, proposes that Twitter should merely be only one part of the information people gather.

“Ideally, social media should act as a ‘first stop’ for information,” said Lupo. “People should take what they learn and search out in-depth news stories that offer a thoughtful analysis of these political events.”

The character limit can also prove problematic when dealing with sensitive or complex issues, especially for politicians. A single tweet is simply unable to convey news information of substance, unless attached to a longer article or broadcast.

“Twitter leaves all the nuance out of the conversation,” said Schake. “It allows people to think they’re more informed than they are. It’s like just reading newspaper headlines. They’re not news stories.”

Trump recently threatened North Korea in a tweet, saying, “They won’t be around much longer,” as a response to Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s speech at the UN. According to Schake, using Twitter to discuss this issue lacked the distinction necessary in dealing with North Korea.

“These kinds of problems cannot be addressed in 140 characters,” Schake said. “President Trump taking to Twitter in this regard has made a volatile situation even more volatile.”

Walsh added, “At the end of day I believe the best way to have discussions is really to have face-to-face conversations. You can’t solve the world’s problems in 140 [characters].”

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