What Journalists & Politicians in Canada Misunderstand About Twitter

Via the CBC’s The National the other night, they discussed Twitter and it’s use by politicians and journalists in Canada. Just Twitter. Like it was a single, solitary, lonely social media channel, the only channel. A separate comment aired by Stockwell Day, a bright, former politician, focused just on Twitter. The “Insiders Panel”, all senior political party strategists, nodded and focused on Twitter. Just Twitter. They made some very good points, including how politicians get into verbal spats often unnecessariyl. And that both journalists and politicians focus too much on Twitter; that is very true.

Twitter is not an Isolated Channel or Medium
I was disappointed however, to hear the pundits focus on Twitter and the “twitterverse” as a singular, disconnected channel. In addition, they downplayed it’s relevance thinking that not many Canadians actually use Twitter for political discussion and those that do they essentially downplayed as trolls or provocateurs. It became sadly apparent that these “pundits” and by default most likely their communications teams and parties, utterly misunderstand the nature of Twitter.

Twitter is a Highway With Many On & Off Ramps
In reality, while there is some dialogue and commentary on Twitter, they are usually brief (hey, you’ve only got 140 characters to fiddle with!) and most importantly…link to other channels. One might think of Twitter as a massive autobahn that runs extremeley fast, but has many on and off ramps; those are the “links” to pictures, memes, websites, blogs, YouTube and Vimeo, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, news media sites, Reddit…and well, I suppose your getting the picture. Maybe a journalist or political hack might as well? It would help them tremendously if they did.

Where The Real Discussion Happens
The real dialogue, the chatter where educated and intelligent arguments happen, is far more often in these other spaces. Yes, there are the “trolls” and various cynics and nasties in those other places, But often the content that is pushed onto the Twitter autobahn is from somewhere else and goes somewhere else. Twitter connects. Dialogue on Twitter is brief and when politicians get into a digital fistacuffs, it is the voters, their very constituents, who simply sit back and watch, maybe laugh, maybe howl in rage, but say little or nothing back. In addition, journalists and politicians, fail to appreciate the “network effect” of Twitter and other social media channels and services…the message spreads, it has legs longer than24 hours and it never goes away.

Journalistic Trap
Unfortunately, one of the results of Twitter and the speed of social media has been for editors and publishers to exort massive, unecessary and unfair pressure onto their journalists. They demand the reporter get the story out ASAP, they rush to beat their competitors; we’ve seen the results and they are often nasty and hurt the reputation of the news media outlet.

All in all, politicians, political party PR teams, strategists and journalists, should better understand Twitter by now. This failure to understand the ripple effect of social media channels, it’s many tentacles, can lead to missing an opportunity to better engage with the citizens, the voters. After all, it is the voters that matter. Regarding Twitter in a silo is disrespectful to citizens and an insult to journalists and we need good journalism better than ever before.

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