Twitter has witnessed increasing involvement during the American Presidential campaigns, highlighting the ever-growing importance of social media in politics - and this has been extended by news that Twitter is being integrated into the upcoming party conventions.
Both parties have already created their official convention pages and supporting hashtags - #GOP2012 and #DNC2012 for the Republicans and Democrats respectively. These will allow both the affiliated party and candidates to tweet their views and any relevant information, as well as allowing the voting public to get involved. During the conventions, journalists and media companies will also be tweeting all that is occurring, giving the outside a comprehensive view of inside the convention. This decision to incorporate Twitter has sparked great debate but there is certainly a lot of potential in involving the micro-blogging site.
Most plainly, utilising Twitter in this way has the capacity to document the real views of supporters and those involved. Dan Schnur, communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, notes that this could mean that “everybody has their own song”, instead of traditionally all singing from the same hymnbook. This is sure to generate controversy and possibly get certain people in trouble, but will heighten the excitement surrounding these conventions. The convention organisers have realised the ‘volatility’ of the site and believe that embracing Twitter will increase involvement and possibly support. If voters are likely to feel more involved and there are increased levels of support, perhaps turnout is also set to rise.
Crucially, there is the chance that the successful usage of Twitter during these conventions could convert the important group of ‘swing voters’. If this were the case it could prove to be decisive in the final election outcome. Twitter corporate spokeswoman, Rachael Horwitz, has offered her insight in how Twitter can help candidates to immediately address any criticism or howler they may have had, meaning they can never be “off guard”. This could prove to be a blessing in this case, as rumours and errors are sure to erupt at the conventions. Quite simply, the use of Twitter during the conventions also allows the parties message to be spread to a wider audience. Those that may be disinterested in following the news or coverage of the conventions could quite easily become involved through Twitter, especially if everybody is talking about it.
For all the potential this promises, there have been many who remain sceptical of this move and have expressed their concerns. Tad Devine, a Democratic political strategist, believes Twitter has the possibility of being a “dangerous” force. Everyone at the conferences has the capacity to tweet rumours, negative views and any other material that may be left undocumented. Despite there being some regulations, it is impossible to monitor each individual’s usage and these guidelines are often fairly vague. It is almost certain that people will get in trouble over their Twitter usage during these conventions.
The organisation and unity of the parties at these conventions will also be in danger and under increased scrutiny with Twitter being involved. With everyone responding to the events, it will be difficult to continually stick to party lines and the media will surely pick up on any outright criticism. Whilst excitement and support surrounding the conventions is likely to increase is this going to have a positive effect on the election outcome. If the less-informed voters base their decision on some snapshots from the Twitter coverage this may lead to questionable results. Essentially, in this case, each positive has its own relevant counter argument.
Twitter outside of the conventions
Twitter has already played a significant role in the follow-up to the conventions. The creation of the ‘Twindex’ has meant that the candidates polling figures can be seen each day, in relation to their performance on the site. Although it has been argued to be not truly representative, it has been shown to generally follow the nationwide Gallup polls. The creation of the Twindex highlights an overall trend of greater usage of the site during the presidential campaigns.
The less positive side of Twitter has also been underlined with the controversy surrounding the alleged fake Twitter accounts, or ‘bots’, used to increase Mitt Romney’s following. Amassing over ‘100,000 new Twitter followers in just one weekend’ the suspicions surrounding this were almost confirmed. Analysis into the accounts also showed them to be ‘bots’, as many shared the same profile pictures and no activity. It is uncertain whether these followers were bought by the Romney campaign in a bid to catch up with the 18 million followers boasted by Obama, or by Romney supporters. Either way it shows that the site can become tainted.
Ultimately, social media can no longer be separated from politics and the Twitter coverage is sure to play a huge part in the imminent conventions. Whether it be positive or negative, this will provide some intriguing stories that may never have had the chance to surface.
Josh Bennett, Content Writer