It’s no secret that the use of social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have fundamentally changed the way politics work. The way we engage in discourse, the way politicians reach their voters, the ways people sound their opinions — all of this has been drastically altered by the emergence of social media into the political sphere. John Parmelee, author of “Politics and the Twitter Revolution,” even went so far as to say “Twitter can set the agenda for what journalists are covering.”
Social media platforms have allowed politicians and their constituents to communicate directly, unencumbered by logistic and political barriers. With this, comes more opportunity for voters to hold their leaders accountable — a fact which has not proven so popular amongst some lawmakers.
This started becoming clear even back in 2013, well before the 2016 presidential race, which is perhaps the most striking example of the power Twitter has in politics and on the distribution of information. As the Washington Post noted in 2013, “It’s an immediate — and often unfiltered — mode of communication, which the last seven years have shown can be dangerous for pols who otherwise live under a shroud of privacy, handlers, and carefully selected talking points.”
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that three Wisconsin GOP lawmakers were in violation of the First Amendment when they blocked liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now on Twitter.
Walker’s Twitter tirade against Soglin potentially significant act in gubernatorial raceFor the past few years, America’s political climate could best be described as tumultuous. Wisconsin, of course, is no exception. Read…
According to the report from Wisconsin Public Radio, “The organization argued the social media barrier, which prevented it from seeing or interacting with the lawmakers’ tweets, barred it from exercising its First Amendment right to engage in conversation in a public forum.”
One of the defendants, former Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, said in testimony his feed was not intended “for Dane County liberals to carry on conversations with me.”
Federal Judge William Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin agreed with One Wisconsin Now, explaining in his ruling, “If [the lawmakers] truly had no intention to create a space for public interaction and discourse, they would not have created public Twitter accounts in the first place.”
The use of Twitter as a space for political discourse has received a lot of criticism, which is understandable — it is difficult to carry out a thorough discussion about complex political topics in a 140-character tweet. But the reality is these conversations and political moves are taking place on Twitter, whether we like it or not.
Twitter wars between Wisconsin candidates shows popular news consumption methods need to changeIn the era of Trump and Twitter, hyper-partisanship and memes, it’s hard to think today’s political climate could get more Read…
Regardless of the change in medium, however, politicians must still be held to high standards of political integrity — that cannot change just because they now have the technology to turn away dissenters with one simple press of a “block” button on Twitter.
Twitter seems informal and seems like it shouldn’t carry as much weight as a 2-hour political debate, and maybe that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that politicians can turn to unprofessionalism and utter disrespect for the Constitution just because they are on Twitter.
Voters must be cognizant of this. Politicians are now more accessible than ever, and with that comes more power for voters to hold politicians accountable for their actions. This is the true positive side of social media’s integration into politics, and we should take advantage of that.
Rather than relent about the informal nature of the platform, we should make use of the accessibility it creates to our politicians and use that power to communicate with our leaders in a way that has not been possible before.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a junior studying math and Chinese.